The industry of fake news has become so wide-spread that multiple BJP ministers and leaders are regularly falling prey to it. In the last month, BJP MP Paresh Rawal has tweeted two fake stories and now in a matter of 24 hours, Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and BJP National Spokesperson Sambit Patra have tweeted/retweeted fake news/propaganda.
It started with right-wing journalist/economist S Gurumurthy tweeting a fake quote attributed to AR Rahman with the context of eating beef.
Fact checking website SMHoaxSlayer wrote a post to show how AR Rahman never said the words that are being attributed to him. The fake quote was a combination of the portion where AR Rahman talks about his mother’s religion and spirituality in this Scroll.in piece and mixing it with an imaginary quote about beef, something which he never said. The strategy of mixing fact and fiction made the quote sound factual.
The tweet by Gurumurthy which received over 2.6k retweets was also retweeted by Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. However, when she was informed that the content of the quote was not factual, she gracefully apologised and un-retweeted S Gurumurthy’s tweet. At the time of writing, S Gurumurthy’s tweets have still not been deleted despite him being informed repeatedly that the said quote is fake.
Last night, BJP National Spokesperson Sambit Patra also fell prey to fake news when he tweeted an article from a Pakistani fake propaganda site called timesofislamabad.com. In the headline of this article, it was claimed that according to the data revealed by NDTV, NDA’s flagship program Make in India had flopped.
Recently, on NDTV Anchor Nidhi Razdan’s show, Sambit Patra had claimed multiple times that NDTV has an ‘agenda’ against BJP after which Nidhi Razdan had asked him to leave her show. Probably, when Sambit Patra saw a piece claiming that NDTV’s data shows that Make in India is a flop show, he thought of it as a good opportunity to attack NDTV and tweeted the article with the phrase, “Hmmm …Agenda!!“.
NDTV was quick to point out that they are wrongly attributed in this article and they never did any such story. Nidhi Razdan also pointed out in a tweet to Sambit Patra that this was a case of fake news. Soon after, TimesOfIslamabad tweeted claiming that they had wrongly attributed their story to NDTV and they were actually quoting Indian Express.
As it turns out, the “data” that TimesOfIslamabad refers to was neither endorsed by Indian Express nor NDTV, but was part of an opinion piece in Indian Express by former UPA Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
Following Sambit Patra’s tweet, BJP National IT Cell head Amit Malviya chose to further propagandise the issue instead of condemning this fake news propaganda by a Pakistani site.
When multiple news websites including Wire and Indian Express wrote about this issue, Sambit Patra instead of admitting that he had fallen prey to fake news claimed that he was attacking the Pakistani site for their fake propaganda and it was his Freedom of Expression. He made it seem that the target of his tweet was the Pakistani site and not NDTV.
Many reminded him that spreading fake news doesn’t fall in the ambit of Freedom of Expression.
In the present age of information overload, all of us from time to time fall prey to fake propaganda on social media. What matters is how we respond to the issue. The menace of fake news has to be acknowledged and not defended. In the present case, while Nirmala Sitharaman gracefully apologized and withdrew her tweet, Sambit Patra claimed that it was his freedom of expression and did not delete his tweet. This contrasting approach is a good example of “what to do” and “what not to do”.