June turned out to be ominous insofar as the sinister impact of misinformation is concerned. Rumours of child abductors abounded in various states, shared via WhatsApp. The suspicion, mistrust and fear created by these messages which mostly circulated with gory images and videos of alleged child kidnappers being assaulted by the public resulted in the death of almost 20 people across the country. Misinformation of this nature was all-pervasive in June and continues unabated.

1. Child abduction rumours turn fatal

A spate of rumours erupted in June in many states across the country from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu. These rumours were generated and spread via WhatsApp and warned citizens of child abduction gangs on the prowl.

The above message was circulating in Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha. Alt News had found that the same set of images was being used across the country. Most of the photographs were unrelated and had nothing to do with child abduction. Yet, these rumours continued unabated and spread to other states. In Maharashtra, WhatsApp messages warned of gangs who have abducted young girls and extracted their organs. A 40 year old woman was lynched in Ahmedabad on suspicion of child lifting.

According to reports, atleast 18 people have been killed on suspicion since May 2018 as mob violence erupted in different parts of the country. There has been no respite; in the latest incident, five people were lynched in Dhule, Maharashtra after they were suspected of being child kidnappers.

A video was also widely circulated in which a child can be seen being abducted. This video was shared in different states claiming that the gang seen in the video is active in the area. Alt News found that this is an old video from 2016 made for awareness purposes by an organization named Roshni Helpline. The video ends with the text: “Every year, over 3000 children go missing in Karachi, Pakistan. Keep an eye on your child.” The abduction was staged to educate people about rampant child abduction in Karachi. The original video is posted below.

Rumours follow localised pattern

Alt News has observed that the child-abduction rumours are being localised from state to state. If the rumour is aimed at Maharashtra, then the message is circulated in Marathi and refers to a place in Maharashtra claiming that the child-kidnappers are on the prowl in the said place. Similarly, when the messages are circulated in Gujarat, they are circulated in Gujarati and refer to a place inside Gujarat. This is an atypical behaviour as far as misinformation is concerned. In most cases of misinformation, the central narrative remains the same and does not change during its life-cycle. On occasions, we have seen that the same video is circulated with different narratives, but this is usually not the norm.

2. Attempts to incite communal sentiments

A large proportion of misinformation is directed towards sowing the seeds of division and hatred among religious communities. The month of June was no different. There were a number of attempts to rouse communal passions by portraying the ‘other’ as the aggressor. The common targets for these miscreants were the states of West Bengal and Karnataka.

The above tweet claimed that the West Bengal government had sanctioned five days of holiday for Eid had posted a ‘notification’ in the name of the Governor. This turned out to be forged. No such notification had been issued by the West Bengal government, but it was an attempt to paint the Mamata Banerjee led TMC as pandering to the minority community.

The fake news website PostCard News claimed that social science textbooks in Karnataka were encouraging conversion to Islam and Christianity. This was false and malicious. Karnataka continued to be the backdrop for fake news purveyors. Videos of violence from elsewhere or unrelated videos were masqueraded as aggression by Muslims on Hindus.

In another instance, a photoshopped image was being shared in which a teacher in a madrasa was shown demonstrating Islam to be a superior religion to Hinduism.

3. Photoshopped image of Pranab Mukherjee at RSS event

Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to an RSS event in Nagpur was watched keenly, and soon after his address, a photograph began circulating on social media in which Mukherjee was showing wearing the RSS cap and doing the traditional RSS salutation.

Alt News tried to find out the source of the image and it turned out that this photograph was posted by a social media user who is followed by PM Narendra Modi on Twitter. The picture was circulated widely in an organised manner through a number of Twitter accounts and hundreds of pages on Facebook followed by millions of members. A number of fake quotes were also ascribed to Mukherjee in which he purportedly berated the Congress party and praised PM Modi.

4. News organisations fall for social media rumour

When a fire engulted the Income Tax office building in Mumbai in the beginning of June, reports emerged that crucial files relating to Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi may have been lost in the blaze.

Alt News found that a correspondent with The Pioneer was the among the first to raise suspicion over the files having been destroyed in the blaze. This was subsequently picked up by various media publications without due verification. The Income Tax department later clarified that the files are safe.

5. “India has taken no loans from World Bank since 2015”

In these 70 years of independence, there were only three years India did not take any loans from the World Bank – 2015, 2016, 2017 – is this Modiji’s failure or success? Namo namah- translated. This message was circulating on Facebook and Twitter, and was shared by thousands of social media users.

Alt News fact checked this claim and found it to be untrue. India has availed loans to the tune of USD 96 billion in the period from 2015 to 2017 for as many as 50 different projects.

6. False, malicious rape allegation against Sambit Patra

A post was shared by thousands of people on Facebook, according to which Dr. Sambit Patra, national spokesperson of the BJP, had raped a female patient due to which his medical license was revoked.

Alt News could not find any such case regarding Dr. Patra who, in a conversation, said, “I am contemplating defamation against verified handles and websites which are spreading such kind of unfounded, uncouth and untruth information”.

7. PM Modi claims Kabir, Nanak and Gorakhnath “sat together”

PM Modi addressed a gathering at Maghar in U.P on the death anniversary of Kabir, the poet-saint and mystic. In his address, PM Modi said, “I once again salute Mahatma Kabir in this land of nirvana. It is said that Sant Kabir, Guru Nanak Dev and Baba Goraknath sat together at this place and discussed spirituality” (translated).”

PM Modi is known to make gaffes over history and this was yet another instance. Historians and scholars have placed Gorakhnath in the 12th century CE, whereas Nanak and Kabir belonged to the 15th century CE, three hundred years after Gorakhnath.

8. Rahul Gandhi’s claim about Coca-Cola founder

Addressing a gathering of Congress workers in New Delhi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said that the founder of Coca-Cola started his journey by selling ‘shikanji’ or lemonade on the roadside.

This assertion was found to be incorrect. John Pemberton, founder of Coca-Cola, was a pharmacist who first concocted the beverage to address his morphine addiction which was the result of wounds sustained in a battle.

9. Mischievously edited clip of Ashok Gehlot

If electricity is removed from water and the water goes to the farm, such water will have no energy and will be useless in the farm- translated. AICC General Secretary and former Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot was roasted on social media after he purportedly made these daft remarks at a press conference. A 16-second clip circulated widely on Twitter in which Gehlot could be heard saying these words.

Alt News fact checked this viral claim about Gehlot’s statement and found that the clip doing the rounds is a severely truncated part of a longer video in which he is saying that when he was young, he had witnessed how Jan Sangh cadres were spreading misinformation about the Bhakra dam which was inaugurated by former PM Jawaharlal Nehru, spreading rumours that once electricity is removed from water, the water will become useless.

About the Author

Arjun Sidharth is a writer with Alt News. He has previously worked in the television news industry, where he managed news bulletins and breaking news scenarios, apart from scripting numerous prime time television stories. He has also been actively involved with various freelance projects. Sidharth has studied economics, political science, international relations and journalism. He has a keen interest in books, movies, music, sports, politics, foreign policy, history and economics. His hobbies include reading, watching movies and indoor gaming.