“आंध्रप्रदेश की एक हिंदू मारवाड़ी लड़की जिसकी शादी एक मुस्लिम लड़के के साथ शादी हुई थी। आज कुछ मुस्लिम लोगों नें मिलकर बुरीतरह मारा फिर जिंदा जला दिया। बुर्का ना पहनने के लिये – -देखिये दिल दहला देने वाली video (Translation: A Hindu Marwardi girl from Andhra Pradesh who was married to a Muslim man was beaten up and burnt alive by a few people belonging to the Muslim community for not wearing burkha)“. A video with the aforementioned text has been viral on various forms of social media including WhatsApp and Facebook for about a year and a half now. According to Alt News research, this video was first posted by a Facebook page called “Hindu Rashtra Sena” in February 2016. It is June 2017 but this video refuses to stop being viral. Why is this a concern? Because this video is not from Andhra Pradesh and doesn’t remotely represent the text that it is being circulated with. In this post, we’ll see how social media is being increasingly bombarded by many such videos, and possible solutions to counter this trend.
Alt News debunked this video in March 2017. The video is from Guatemala in which a mob kills a girl who along with two other men was allegedly involved in shooting and killing a Taxi driver. She got caught while her two alleged accomplices managed to flee the scene of crime. This is a 4 minute video and it is as grotesque as it gets wherein the girl is videographed being beaten up and burnt alive till the time she finally dies.
The mob in the video consists of other women too, none of whom were wearing a Burkha. None in the mob were wearing the traditional Muslim skullcap. None in the mob were speaking a language which had any resemblance to any Indian language. Yet, none of those obvious observations mattered to many because of the provocative nature of the introductory text. This video continues to be shared even today. Rahul Kumar posted the video on his Facebook profile on June 26th, Nakul Pal on June 23rd, Ravi Sharma on June 22nd, Mandeep Boparai on June 21st, the list is endless.
Everytime this video is shared, one can observe that the text remains identical. Compare the above screenshot taken on 26th June 2017 and the following screenshot which was taken on 5th March 2017. Not even a comma has changed.
What explains this phenomenon? The reason why this video has been shared a few lakh times with identical text is because it is viral on WhatsApp. A certain percentage of people who received this video on WhatsApp copied the accompanying text and posted it on their Facebook profile. Considering the extremely grotesque nature of the video, it would be fair to assume that only a small percentage of people who received this video on WhatsApp would end up posting it on their personal Facebook timelines. Over the past one and a half years, lakhs and lakhs of people must have seen this video. Many of these people, and especially those with a confirmation bias, would believe that such an event actually occurred thus adding to the ever growing feeling of communal acrimony in India.
The main aim of circulating such fake videos is to project an individual or a community or a political entity or people of a particular ethnicity in bad light. Very often, these fake videos coincide with trending political issues in the country.
When the never ending conflict between the RSS and the Left in Kerala was being highlighted by main stream media, a video became viral in which it was claimed that a RSS member is being killed by a member of the Left. This video was crazily viral for a good 3-4 days. Among the many people who shared this video, Puneet Sharma who is one of the chosen few whom PM Modi follows on Twitter was also involved.
Alt News debunked this issue in March 2017. The video was from Mexico where in a member of a Mexican gang was stabbed to death. Had nothing to do with Kerala.
In March 2017, controversy broke out over Delhi University student Gurmehar Kaur’s video for peace between India and Pakistan. From Virender Sehwag to Randeep Hooda, multiple people launched a misinformed attack on Gurmehar. Soon a video went viral which showed a young woman drinking along with some of her friends in a moving car and it was claimed that the woman is Gurmehar. While, there’s absolutely nothing wrong even if it were Gurmehar herself in the video, this misleading video became viral since large sections of Indian society still look down upon women who drink.
Alt News wrote about this issue in March 2017. The woman in the video was not Guremhar and the video was available on youtube much before the Gurmehar controversy broke out. According to Alt News research, a man called Vikram Bhanushali first circulated this video on his Facebook profile, a post which he has still not deleted.
The most favorite theme of fake videos is “Muslims are killing a Hindu man or woman, media won’t show this reality, share this widely”. Right after Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer, was murdered by Gau Rakshaks in Alwar, Rajasthan in the first week of April, a video went viral claiming that a Hindu man was killed by Muslims in West Bengal. The introductory text further claimed that while media and leaders of opposition parties are focused on the issue of Pehlu Khan, they will never talk about the murder of a Hindu. The video was initially shared by a person called Ghanshyam Jangid on his Facebook profile, his post was shared over 41,000 times. Anindya Banerjee of India Today even passed off a snapshot of this video as a file picture of communal strife from West Bengal in a news report of his of his.
Alt News wrote about this issue in April 2017. The video is actually from Bangladesh where a man called Abu Syed was murdered on April 1st, 2017. Abu Syed was accused in the murder of Awami League leader Monir Hossain Sarkar. This incident happened in Titas subdivision of Coomilla district in Bangladesh. The issue was also covered by the local news website called Coomilla-r-Kagoj which translates to “Coomilla’s Newspaper”.
While this video from Bangladesh was being circulated as Hindu killed by Muslims in West Bengal, it was also simultaneously being circulated as Hindu killed by Muslims in Nawada, Bihar.
Alt News post on this can be read here. A month later, this video from Bangladesh was circulated a third time with the claim that Kashmiri students were killing a CRPF Jawan. This time the original post was shared over 35,000 which led to this video becoming viral all over again on social media. The screenshot shows how this fake video was circulated via WhatsApp. Alt News post on this issue can be read here.
Continuing the trend of fake videos claiming “Muslims killed/injured Hindus”, BJP Asansol IT Incharge Tarun Sengupta shared a video on his Facebook Timeline on April 17th, 2017, claiming that Hanuman Bhakts were beaten up by two senior IPS officers in West Bengal Police Cadre namely Nishat Pervez and Farhat Abbas. He claimed that the said event happened on Hanuman Jayanti which was celebrated on April 11, 2017. The idea was to show how a Muslim police officer is raining atrocities on Hindus. As it happens, the video that Tarun Gupta shared has been available on Internet for over 3 years. Alt News debunked this issue here.
The video shared by Tarun Sengupta was also shared by the fake news website Postcard.news. Fake news websites often help in propagation of such videos. For eg, yet another fake news website called Hindutva.info had shared the Mexican stabbing video claiming that it was a member of a Left party killing a RSS Karyakarta. Hindutva.info had also shared the video from Bangladesh falsely claiming it was a Hindu being killed in West Bengal.
Fake Videos are also often circulated immediately after certain trending issues/events. Soon after two Indian jawans were beheaded by Pakistani army, a beheading video of a Brazilian Bank robber was circulated claiming it was an Indian army jawan being beheaded. When India lost the finals of Champions trophy to Pakistan, at least 3 misleading videos were circulated claiming Indian Muslims were celebrating Pakistans win. One of the videos was a December 2016 video from Vadodara, another video was from Pakistan and yet another video was an older video from Bhagalpur, Bihar. After PM Modi’s recent visit to US, a video of Obama’s 2010 cavalcade from San Francisco was claimed to be PM Modi’s cavalcade to White House.’
Cow slaughter videos from other countries circulated with the claim that it is happening in India is the other kind of fake video that is often to be found on social media.
Why the sudden spurt in fake videos? With mobile data reaching the remotest villages of India, videos have become an important tool for visual communication. Every single day, different kinds of videos go viral, from an outstanding catch in a game of cricket to a beautifully sung song by a young child. This same expansive network is also being used to propagate fake videos every single day with a single point agenda of political one-upmanship. One never knows when such a video will spark a riot like the one that happened in Muzaffarnagar. This worrying trend needs to be countered urgently.
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are in a very good place to control the spread of fake videos, especially since these videos are often shared with identical text, a pattern that can be easily tracked. A video like the one from Guatemala being circulated as Marwadi woman burnt by Muslims in Andhra Pradesh for over one and a half years now could have easily been curbed a long time ago had Facebook/WhatsApp put in certain mechanisms in place. Unfortunately, none of the social media platforms seem serious enough about fake videos at this point of time.
Law establishments also need to get involved and issue advisories about such fake videos. Recently, Vadodara police had put up a post on their Facebook page soon after an old/misleading video from Vadodara went viral claiming Muslims were celebrating Pakistan’s win. However, since the post was in Gujarati, it did not have the desired effect in curbing the spread since the video was in circulation in every part of the country. Such advisories need to be issued by every law enforcement agency across the country for every fake video since fake videos are never limited to a geographical region.
Lastly, news media outlets also should put out advisories regarding fake videos and have at least weekly programs to highlight the fake news/videos that have been circulated through the week. Not only will that help in curbing such fake videos because of the reach that media has, but it will also educate people and remind them how not to believe everything that ends up in their WhatsApp account.
Without a multi-pronged approach, the spectre of fake videos is only widening its web every single day. And that is very bad news for our democracy.