Assembly elections to five states were held in the month of December and expectedly, politics became the major theme of misinformation/disinformation throughout the month. Interestingly, the flurry of misinformation was not restricted to the run-up to the elections but continued well after polling had ended and new governments had been formed in the states.
MISINFORMATION PRIOR TO ELECTIONS
1. Amit Shah makes misleading claims about Telangana Congress manifesto
Addressing a public rally in Telangana in the beginning of December ahead of the assembly election, BJP President Amit Shah made a series of claims about the Congress party’s manifesto for Telangana. Shah claimed that the Congress party in its manifesto had made a slew of promises specifically targeting the minority communities and excluding the majority Hindu community in the state.
Alt News found that several of these claims made by Amit Shah were unfounded or misleading. For instance, Shah had claimed that Congress had promised free electricity to churches and mosques but not temples, or that scholarships would be provided only to students of minority communities. This was untrue.
2. Fake screenshot of ABP News targeting Rahul Gandhi
An image of what was purportedly a screenshot of the Hindi news channel ABP News was shared widely on social media, carrying an alleged quote of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, according to which he had said that it is necessary to support Pakistan and that he will do the same, promising Rs.5000 crore loan to Pakistan without interest for the next 50 years!
The screenshot circulating on social media was fake. No such news was flashed on the channel, as claimed. Alt News spoke to Pankaj Jha, editor at ABP News who confirmed, “All of these screenshots are fake”.
3. Fake newspaper clip targeting Amit Shah
A purported newspaper clip viral on social media claimed that BJP chief Amit Shah called the Baniya community ‘thieves’ and accused them of profiteering. It was suggested that Shah made this statement while rallying ahead of Rajasthan elections in Bundi. The earliest instance of this viral clip, that Alt News found, was circulated by Twitter handle @KedarKansanaINC.
— Kedar Kansana (@KedarKansanaINC) December 9, 2018
Alt News fact-checked this claim and found that Shah had not said anything to that effect in his speech at Bundi, where it was claimed that this comment had been made. The newspaper clip circulated on social media was fake.
MISINFORMATION CONTINUES AFTER ELECTIONS
1. Fake message ascribed to NYT author praising PM Modi
After the results of the assembly elections in five states were announced on December 11, a message began circulating on multiple social media platforms and WhatsApp. It was claimed to be the observation of an ‘author’ of The New York Times, the popular American newspaper. The message sought to build a wave of sympathy for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and denigrated Indian citizens for having a “short memory and narrow vision”, for failing to recognize the need to “fix long term issues” which PM Modi is successfully doing.
Alt News found that there is no such article on The New York Times listing out the contents of the viral message. Moreover, the write-up attributed to a New York Times author, not only did not specify the name of the author, but was also replete with spelling and grammatical errors. Similarly, an emotional appeal to PM Modi falsely attributed to Arnab Goswami was shared widely after the elections.
2. False claim of Rahul Gandhi converting to Islam after polls
“चुनाव ख़त्म होते ही अपने असली रंग में आ गये जनेऊधारी राहुल बाबा”(Janeudhari Rahul baba back to his true colours after conclusion of polls- translated). This message was viral on Facebook and Twitter from December 17, 2018 along with a video. In the video, Rahul Gandhi can be seen offering namaz along with senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and some members of the Muslim community. It was claimed that this video was taken after the recent assembly elections.
चुनाव ख़त्म होते ही अपने असली रंग में आ गये जनेऊधारी राहुल बाबा
Posted by India272+ on Monday, December 17, 2018
Alt News found that the video in question was two years old, shot when Rahul Gandhi had paid tribute at the Kichochha Dargah in Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh.
3. Rahul Gandhi targeted over loan waiver promise through clipped videos
After the assembly elections ended, a video of Congress President Rahul Gandhi began to circulate on social media. In the video, Gandhi could be heard making an about-turn on his party’s pre-poll promise of loan waiver for farmers.
The video shared on social media was mischievously clipped. In the entire video, Gandhi could be heard saying, “Loan waiver is a supporting step. It is not a solution. The solutions would be complex, it would be to support them, build infrastructure, provide access to technology and frankly, the solution is not easy. It is challenging and we will do it, but we will have to work with farmers and the people of the country, and we will do it.” (translated). A few days later, Gandhi was targeted again over the same issue through another clipped video.
4. Pakistani flag waved at Congress’ victory rally
The Pakistani flag invariably makes an appearance on social media during elections. It was claimed that the Pakistani flag was waved at a victory rally of the Congress party in Rajasthan after it emerged victorious in the polls.
The green-coloured flag waved at the victory rally was NOT the flag of Pakistan. Alt News independently verified this. Moreover, Rajasthan police tweeted a clarification asking people not to fall for this rumour.
Madhu Kishwar and Tarek Fatah had tweeted another video in which they had made a similar claim- of Pakistani flags waved at Congress’ victory rally.
ATTEMPTS TO FOMENT COMMUNAL TENSION
1. Tibetan funeral ritual passed off as ‘Rohingyas eating Hindus’
“डरावनी खबर – हिन्दू का कतल कर उनका मास खा रहे रोहिंग्या, मेवात का मामला, खबर विचलित कर सकती है (Horrfying News – Rohingyas are killing Hindus and eating their flesh, a case from Mewat, this news may send shivers down your spine -translated),” read the headline of an article published by fake news website Dainik Bharat on December 18, 2018. The article carried photographs depicting people dismembering dead bodies.
The images were not of ‘Rohingyas eating Hindus’ as claimed. They were representative of a funeral ritual of the Tibetan people who believe in donating their dead bodies to wild birds.
2. Accused in Karnataka temple poisoning case falsely claimed to be Christian
Over 15 people were killed in an incident of food poisoning at a temple in Chamarajanagar in Karnataka on December 17. The source of the poison was the prasada offered to the devotees of the temple. A section of right-wing supporters on social media have claimed that one of the accused in the case, Ambika is actually Sylvia Ambika and that she is a Christian.
In a conversation with Alt News, Dharmendra Kumar Meena, Superintendent of Police, Chamarajanagar District stated that this claim is baseless and false. “This is completely fake. Ambika is a distant relative of the seer and both belong to the same village and the same community. We will issue a clarification through our social media handles.”
3. False claim of Muslims attacking Hindus in Rajasthan
राजस्थान में कांग्रेस सरकार बनते ही पाकिस्तान से लगे जैसलमेर के दार्ती गांव में शांतिदूत मुस्लिमो द्वारा मारवाडी हिन्दूओ के घर जलाये गए और दो हिंदूओ को मौत के घाट उतार दिया (After Congress formed govt in Rajasthan, peaceful muslims in Darti village near Jaisalmer attacked Marwari Hindus, burning their houses. Two Hindus killed- translation). This message was shared on Facebook along with a video which showed women wailing over the loss of their loved ones in violence.
Alt News fact-checked this claim and found that the video is not from Rajasthan. It is not even from India. The video is from Bangladesh and dates back to 2013 when violence against religious minorities had broken out in Noakhali district.
MISINFORMATION BY MEDIA ORGANISATIONS
1. Sudarshan News links Tablighi Ijtema with Bulandshahr mob violence
“In the unrest following the Bulandshahr Ijtema, children are stuck in schools and crying, people are in the forest, they have shut the doors of their homes- residents in live conversation with Sudarshan”- translated.
This message was tweeted by Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News. Tablighi Ijtema is a three day Islamic gathering that took place at Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh from December 1-3. On December 3, a cop was killed after a mob protesting alleged illegal cow slaughter clashed with the police in Siana tehsil of Bulandshahr district. By prefacing the tweet with “बुलंदशहर_इज्तेमा के बवाल” (Unrest after Bulandshahr Ijtema – translated), Sudarshan News suggested that the Ijtema was somehow linked with the violence in which the cop was killed.
#बुलंदशहर_इज्तेमा के बवाल के बाद कई स्कूलों में बच्चे फँसे है, रो रहे है, लोग जंगल में है, घरों के दरवाज़े बंद कर के लोग सहमे हूए है- सुदर्शन से लाईव बातचीत में स्थानीय लोग। #बुलंदशहर_में_बवाल @SudarshanNewsTV पर लाईव
— Suresh Chavhanke STV (@SureshChavhanke) December 3, 2018
Bulandshahr police clarified via twitter that the violence which shook the town was NOT related in any way to the Ijtema gathering. Replying to Chavhanke’s tweet, police appealed not to spread misinformation about the violence.
2. Indian media falls for fake news from Netherlands
The release of S Shankar’s ‘2.0’, a Tamil science fiction movie starring Rajnikanth and Akshay Kumar, sparked up a discourse on the effects of electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation on birds. The film’s message – birds die due to radiation – was portrayed with scenes showing them crash into cell phone towers. Several media organisations reported that this had indeed happened in the Netherlands.
Media reports claiming that birds crashing into towers and dying due to EMF radiations, as shown in ‘2.0’, is likely to happen because a similar incident occurred in The Netherlands, were not only wrong but their assertions were unfounded.
Apart from the above, there were numerous other instances of misinformation/disinformation.
1. False claim by PM Modi on Karnataka farm loan waiver
Addressing a rally in Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a jibe at the ruling coalition regime in Karnataka and claimed that while they had promised loan waivers for lakhs of farmers, till date only 800 farmers have been benefited.
— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) December 29, 2018
PM Modi’s claim that only 800 farmers have availed the farm loan waiver is outdated. The origin of this claim is a December 13, Times of India report in which it was reported that the Karnataka government has distributed the sum of Rs 44,000 cr mandated for farm loan waiver scheme to 800 farmers. It further stated,“Cooperation minister Bandeppa Kashempur told the legislative that only about 800 farmers have availed the benefits of the scheme announced, by the CM on July 5.” Since then, there have been multiple reports which illustrate the progress in the disbursement of loan waiver by the Karnataka government.
2. Giriraj Singh terms Congress ‘world’s 2nd most corrupt party’ on basis of fake news website
Union Minister and BJP MP Giriraj Singh tweeted on December 24 – “Top 10 List of Most Corrupt Political Party in the World 2018 and Rahul Gandhi led congress making it all the way to 2nd spot …congratulations to the most corrupt political party.” In a little over two hours, Singh’s tweet attracted over 1,000 likes and 474 retweets. Giriraj Singh later deleted his tweet.
The website BBC News Hub, which had published this ‘list’ of ‘most corrupt political parties in the world’, is a fake news website.
3. False claim about Statue of Unity developing cracks
“After successfully damaged 2000 notes within 2 years Sardar Statue cracking in 2 weeks” Three close-up pictures of the recently inaugurated Statue of Unity were being circulated on social media. On these pictures, certain sections of the statue have been highlighted with a blue outline. Within the areas marked by the blue outline, one can see white markings. These markings were claimed to be cracks that have developed on the statue that was inaugurated with much fanfare on October 31, 2018.
There was no truth to this claim. The statue consists of thousands of metal plates made out of a bronze alloy which have been welded together. A special type of welding has been used for this purpose, which gives the illusion that these are cracks.
The month of December was, in a sense, a culmination of the cycle of misinformation/disinformation that flooded social media throughout the year, mainly due to the fact that assembly elections were scheduled in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana. The general election of 2019 is barely a few months away, and this flurry of fake news is only expected to intensify in the days, weeks and months ahead.
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