“मध्यप्रदेश कांग्रेस नेता शबाना सारा अली अपने घर में चलाती थी बैशयावरती का धंधा। पुलिस की रेड में पकडी गेई खुद भी और अन्य। (Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Shabana Sara Ali was running a prostitute ring from home. Police raid caught her and others),” read a post circulated on Facebook group ‘We Support Narendra Modi’ and was shared over 2,000 times. The aforestated caption was affixed to two images – the one on the top portrayed the alleged racket, while the bottom image was of a Congress member. The post was circulated on November 14 at 3:05 PM by one Riddhi Pathania.

Alt News found that the post on ‘We Support Narendra Modi’ was the earliest instance of the claim on social media. Within minutes, it was circulated on two other Facebook groups – ‘I Am With JAMMU’S HINDUS में अपने 100 मित्रों को जोड़ें‘ and ‘एक कदम हिन्दु राष्ट्र की ओर‘ (One step toward Hindu Rashtra) – drawing a share count of over 1,300. On both these groups, the post was circulated by one Suchi Devi.

Identical claims were also made by Facebook page ‘Modi mission 2019’ however, the post owned its virality to individual shares.

The same narrative of a Congress MP leader caught in a prostitution raid was propagated on Twitter as well, with a user followed by Railway Minister Piyush Goyal’s Office sharing the post.

Image from China used to malign a fictional Congress leader

Alt News reverse searched the alleged image of the racket, which led us to a website called ‘Beijing News’. On September 13, 2012, the website published an article titled – ‘Wenzhou Police Raid On Call Girls In Hotel 2012’.

The report included both the viral image and its shot from a different angle.

Moreover, when Alt News contacted Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi, she informed that the party has no officer-bearer by the name of ‘Shabana Sara Ali’ in Madhya Pradesh.

Image of Congress worker Gurpreet Kaur used as ‘Shabana Sara Ali’

Chaturvedi added that an image of her colleague from Congress Mumbai, Maharashtra was being used to circulate the false information. “It is so unfortunate that these fake news handles supported by the BJP are first giving a Muslim identity to the perpetrator and second, maligning the image of a Congress worker, Gurpreet Kaur Chadha, by using her photograph,” said Chaturvedi.

Chadha is the Vice President of Mumbai Regional Mahila Congress Committee. Stumbling upon posts spreading misinformation in her name, she tweeted out to Mumbai Police and Cyber Crime Branch, Delhi.

Alt News found that one of Kaur’s images was lifted from her website and used in the viral posts.

Fake images, morphed photographs or images shared with an altered narrative are the most common tools used to propagate misinformation on social media. With Madhya Pradesh elections around the corner, there is a possibility that the circulation of such posts increases. Alt News had earlier reported the undeniable link between fake news industry and elections.

About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.