In July 2018, Alt News had reported how social media has become a playground for vested interests seeking to foment communal prejudice and hate. Disinformation has been weaponized to create a fear psychosis, portraying the majority community as under threat from minority aggression. The seeds of division sown in the minds of the people through effective use of social media platforms continues unabated. Purveyors of disinformation are constantly improvising, devising new tactics to create suspicion and fear. Here is a chronicle of several such instances of disinformation on social media and beyond.

1. Rumour of ‘Imtiaz Ali’ as driver of train in Amritsar tragedy

In October 2018, more than 60 people lost their lives in a tragic accident where an Amritsar-bound train mowed down Dusshera revellers watching the burning of Ravan effigy from railway tracks. Soon after, viral claims on social media began to suggest that the name of the driver was Imtiaz Ali.

This claim was viral on both Facebook and Twitter. The tragedy was sought to be communalised by hatemongers on social media. According to a written statement of the driver to the Railway Administration, the name of the driver was Arvind Kumar and not Imtiaz Ali.

2. Communal spin to WhatsApp rumours of ‘gangs on the prowl’

“Beware! Several gangs of 15-20 Rohingya Muslims have come to Indore, accompanied by women and children. They carry weapons and come around 2 AM at night or any other time at night when the wailing of children can be heard. Kindly do not open the door and share this in all groups – Indore Police, C.S.P. Send to all groups please.” This rumour circulated on Whatsapp in July 2018, and for the first time took a communal turn, targeting Rohingya Muslims.

Alt News had found that these messages date back to March 2017. These messages were contextualised, with the location and language being altered depending on where the messages were being circulated. More than 30 people were killed over rumours on WhatsApp about child abduction gangs on the prowl targeting children.

3. Acid attack on bull by unidentified miscreants communalised

A Twitter user claiming to be a member of the VHP and followed on Twitter by the Office of Piyush Goyal, tweeted a photograph along with the message, “Acid attack on Bull in Tumakuru, Karnataka by peace lovers. Will Sickulars Condemn this? Peta act on this?” “Peace lovers” is a commonly used term by Hindutva handles on social media to derisively refer to the Muslim community.

As it turned out, the images viral on social media were shared by Facebook user Harish Kumar. His post (now deleted) said that some “miscreants” attacked the bull with acid in Aralepet, Tumkur, unlike the viral claims that suggested that the incident took place in “Tumakuru”. A communal angle was deliberately given to this incident.

4. False claims of Muslims perpetrating violence in the garb of Kanwar yatra pilgrims

Arrested Kanwariyas turned out to be Muslim guys who dressed up as Kanwar and tried to malign Hindus by committing violence“. A message was shared on social media claiming that Muslim men dressed up as Kanwar Yatris and perpetrated violence. In August 2018, violence perpetrated by Kanwar Yatra pilgrims was reported from across states in North India.

The claim was false and provocative. The boys in question had donned saffron scarves to resemble the other pilgrims so that they could have easy passage through the traffic and the ensuing chaos of the Kanwar Yatra. This was confirmed to Alt News by the police.

5. Accident during Muharram procession portrayed as sword attack by Muslims on Hindu boy

A claim about a Hindu boy’s throat being slit by a sword during a Muharram procession in Gauri Bazar area of Deoria district in Uttar Pradesh circulated on social media in September 2018.“In Deoria’s Gauri Bazaar, Islamic terrorists in a Muharram procession slit Hindu boy Vishal Ojha’s throat. The question is why havent the Islamic terrorists been arrested yet? (translation)” tweeted a social media user, Ashutosh Snehsagar on September 21, 2018. Along with the message, he had tweeted a video of a boy bleeding profusely. The video was originally posted by Breaking Tube, a twitter handle.

This claim too turned out to be false. Deoria police has tweeted on September 21 that the boy seen in the video, Vishal Ojha had been injured after tubelight shards had slit his throat during a Muharram procession.

6. Fake ‘love jihad’ rate list tweeted by actor Koena Mitra

On August 4, 2018, actor Koena Mitra tweeted an image of what appeared to be an extract from a newspaper, Sanjha Lokswami. It showed a rate list with a price tag put on non-Muslim women with an exhortation to lure them and convert them to Islam. The price ranged from Rs. 6 lakh for a Hindu Brahmin girl to Rs. 3 lakh for a Jain girl and Rs. 7 lakh for a Sikh girl. This information was in the form of an advertisement titled “लड़की भगाओ मुस्लिम बनाओ और इनाम पाओ” (Elope with a girl, convert her to Islam and gain a reward- translated).

The image that was tweeted by Mitra is photoshopped, and this particular message has been circulating on social media and on WhatsApp for several years now. Alt News found that the earliest version of this dangerous provocation is on a blog titled ‘Sikh and Islam’published on February 5, 2010.

7. False claim of Naga sadhu thrashed by Muslims in Uttarakhand

In September 2018, a Twitter handle @Imamofpeace tweeted, “Islamic Extremists in India beating up a poor and elderly Indian beggar. I truly wish this Islamist criminal is arrested soon. @narendramodi.” A video attached with this tweet showed a youth beating up an elderly man. @Imamofpeace later deleted the tweet without clarification and long after the damage was done. Within six hours, it was retweeted over 3,300 times. Later this evolved into the claim that the person beaten up was a Naga sadhu.

Alt News had contacted the SHO of Patel Nagar, Dehradun where the incident had occurred, who told us that the incident was being circulated with a false narrative on social media. “The man who was beaten up is not a Naga Sadhu, but a beggar. He is married and has six children. He went to a house to beg for food and molested the woman who brought him tea and biscuits.”The SHO further said that he was beaten up by the woman’s brother, who was not Muslim but belonged to a Hindu family.

8. False claim of orphan minor girls made pregnant at Teresa missionary

In July 2018, Prashant Patel Umrao had tweeted that 280 “minor orphan girls” were impregnated in “Teresa missionary orphanage” and their babies trafficked abroad. His claim was retweeted more than 3,000 times. Umrao’s tweet was also widely shared on Facebook.

Alt News had contacted Jharkhand ADGP R.K. Mallick who told us that Patel’s claim is completely false“The charity gives shelter to unwed mothers. At the time of delivery, they are taken by the nuns to the hospitals. It’s not as if children are born in the MoC homes. Post delivery, the babies are given to different child care centres as their mothers don’t want the responsibility and MoC also cannot take care of so many newborns.”

9. Viral video of boy tearing up national flag, professing to be Muslim

A video of a boy tearing the Indian flag and saying, “Pakka Musalman hoon” was circulated widely on social media. A Twitter handle, @AnuMishraBJP posted the video stating, “Tearing and throwing away the national flag of India, this boy is saying that … “I am a true Muslim” where is this mentality being born? @sardanarohit @KapilMishra_IND @TajinderBagga -Translated). It has been retweeted more than 2100 times and ‘liked’ more than 2300 times.

This incident is from Surat, Gujarat.Two boys from the Hindu community, as part of a prank, made a video of themselves tearing the Indian flag and proclaimed that they are from the Muslim community. In a statement given to Alt News, G.A. Patel, Police Inspector, Amroli police station(Surat) clarified, “Both the teenagers are friends and belong to the Hindu community. The boys have also apologised for acting childishly.”

10. Half-truth of Karnataka school making students recite Quran verses

In July 2018, a video was viral on social media which showed a school teacher teaching verses of the Quran to school children. It was claimed that the incident took place in Karnataka and it was alleged that this is the state of affairs ever since the Congress-JDS government came to power in the state. The text accompanying the video said that this school is in Shivamogga in Karnataka.

 

The incident had occurred in Vidhyadeep Vidhyalaya, a kindergarten school in Shivamogga. It turned out that the video being shared widely was merely one of a two-part video. The second video showed another teacher teaching the students shlokas or verses from the Bhagwad Gita. The exercise was conducted as rehearsal for a programme to be held in the school on independence day and included recitation of verses from the Gita, Quran and the Bible.

11. False claim of Hindu woman attacked by Muslim man in Bihar

“An intermediate student Priyanka Kushwaha of Gopalganj district was attacked by a Muslim boy. He intended to kill her as he brutally attacked her with a knife. Where are the people who call Islam a peaceful religion? Where are these secular animals? It is because of seculars that such incidents occur (translated). This message was shared along with photographs of a wounded lady by several Twitter users followed by Piyush Goyal’s office.

A report of October 11 had stated that a woman was attacked by a man named Sandeep Giri on her way back home from a temple. The perpetrated assaulted her with a knife when his advances were rejected. The incident took place in Kateya, Gopalganj in Bihar. To corroborate the media outlet’s version, Alt News contacted Gopalganj District Magistrate IAS Animesh Kumar Parashar. He informed that the man arrested was not a member of the Muslim community and claims on social media suggesting otherwise are only an attempt to communalise the issue.

12. Old riot video shared as Hindu procession attacked by Muslims

In Bhagalpur, Bihar, Muslim pelted stones at the Shobha Yatra and had set fire to it. Hindus you just keep sleeping. If you are a child of Hindu, then share it to 1, 2, 3 whatever groups you have -translated) In July 2018, a Facebook user, रायल संजय सिंह राजपूत (Royal Sanjay Singh Rajput) shared two images and videos with the aforementioned text in a Facebook group, नरेन्द्र मोदी 2019 (साथ हैं तो जुडे़). At the time of writing, the post has been shared more than 7400 times.

Alt News found that the images were old and not related to what has been claimed. Moreover, the video that was shared turned out to be that of Asansol, where communal violence had erupted earlier in March 2018. It was not related to any Hindu procession being attacked by Muslims in Bhagalpur as falsely claimed.

13. False claim of Muslim lawyer filing petition in SC against Hindu ritual

In July 2018, several claims on social media alleged that members of the Muslim community filed a petition in the Supreme Court against holding ‘Mata ki Chowki’, a Hindu ritual, in public spaces. Among those who tweeted this misinformation was lawyer Prashant Patel Umrao who followed it with a question – “Should Hindus allow Namaz and Muharram on roads?” 

However, the petition was neither filed by ‘Muslims’ nor was it against the ritual. It was in fact in favour of the ritual and was filed by an organisation, Jyoti Jagran Manch, that was denied permission by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to hold ‘Mata ki Chowki’ and ‘jagran’ (overnight prayer meeting) at a park in South-West Delhi. While the petition referred only to the aforementioned Hindu rituals, the SC’s hearing would pertain to the larger question of whether any religious function should be permitted at public spaces.

14. False claim about Priyanka Chopra wearing burqa before meeting Rohingya refugees

In May 2018, Priyanka Chopra’s visit to a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador had invited much slander and abuse. In July, a photograph showing Chopra wearing a burqa was shared across social media platforms with the claim that the actress had donned the attire when she met ‘extremist’ Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh.

The claim was false. In 2011, Priyanka Chopra had starred in a movie directed by Vishal Bharadwaj named ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’. It was for this movie that Chopra had donned a burqa. The photograph dates back to 2010. It was uploaded by Outlook on its website.

15. False claim of UP Muslim Congress leader assaulting woman who tied him rakhi

In August 2018, two pictures were circulated on social media. One showed a woman tying a rakhi to a man and the other was purportedly of the same woman who seemed to be injured. कोमल(@komal44337466), a Twitter user had tweeted these images stating, “In Gonda (UP), a Hindu woman Niru Gautam considered Congress leader Ghafoor Khan as her brother and had also tied a rakhi. On 27th August Monday, Ghafoor called Niru home for some work and then he ran away after beating and raping Niru -translated).

A Google reverse image search of the image where a woman is tying a rakhi showed that it is an old image. An image posted by a Twitter user on August 7, 2018 was one of the earliest instances that Alt News could find. The tweet promoted communal harmony stating, “some relations are beyond religion and Love and Hate have no religion (translated).” Hence, it cannot be representative of the incident falsely claimed to have happened.

Provocative media reports add fuel to the fire

Disinformation of communal nature was relentless on social media, but it was exacerbated by incendiary media reports on certain incidents.

1. Media reports communalise Ankit Garg murder case

Ankit Kumar Garg, a 31-year old teacher was shot dead on October 1 in Delhi. Soon after the incident, multiple news organisations reported that this was a case of honour killing. The basis of the reports was the accusation by the victim’s family that Ankit was killed by the family of the Muslim girl he was in a relationship with. Several news organisations gave a communal spin to the murder.

The murder of Ankit Kumar Garg was not a case of honour killing. This was confirmed by the Delhi police via a press release of October 5, 2018. The press release categorically stated that 21-year old Akash has been arrested for the murder of Garg. The motive for the murder was jealousy over the relationship of the victim with a friend of the accused.

2. ‘Fanatic evangelism’ declared as motive behind Gurugram shooting

On October 13, the wife and son of a Gurugram district judge were shot in broad daylight by their personal security officer (PSO) while on duty. On October 16, the police declared that the sole motive behind the murder was “sudden rage”. Several initial media reports had, however, linked the murder to “religious conversion” even before the police concluded its investigation. They declared that PSO Mahipal pressurised the judge’s family to embrace Christianity, which led to frequent altercations, and the subsequent attack. The basis of these reports was the perpetrator’s spiritual inclination and the multiple statements he gave during police interrogation.

The murder was not linked to Mahipal’s spiritual inclination. The Haryana police held a press conference on October 16 to provide details about its investigation into the attack and stated that the sole motive behind the murder was the rage he felt when his absence was questioned and he was asked to hand over the car keys.

3. Sudarshan News spreads disinformation about decree by mosque against UP Police

शुरू हो गया वो सब कुछ जिसका डर था. #up की एक #मस्जिद से आया फरमान – “टुकड़े टुकड़े में काटना है @Uppolice वालों को” (Everything we were afraid of has started. #up A decree came from a #mosque – cut them @uppolice into pieces- translated) tweeted Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News Channel, in July 2018 with an article titled exactly the same, which claimed that a decree against the UP Police has been passed by a mosque in Uttar Pradesh.

In a conversation with Alt News, SP Jai Prakash of Baghpat police had rubbished the claim of a threat of massacre of the police force issued by a mosque stating, “It was an act of sudden provocation. The accused has been arrested and produced before the court. In a statement given to the police, the accused has confessed of having lost his cool.” Despite the clarification by the police, Chavhanke did not apologize for this tweet and neither did Sudarshan News retract the article.

Hundreds of groups, pages and accounts on various platforms are actively and relentlessly poisoning the social media ecosystem on a daily basis through the use of patently false and inflammatory content. Disturbingly, this trend has seemingly been aggravated through inaccurate reporting by mainstream media. The irony is inescapable- at a time when the Statue of Unity is unveiled with fanfare, organised propaganda that cultivates prejudice, fear and hate and foments communal tension continues unabated.

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