Looking through the prism of news headlines, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and elections in several Indian states were the two major events of 2022. These incidents found wide coverage in mainstream media channels as well as on social media platforms. As per a 2021 study by ICUBE, India has 692 million active internet users. In other words, the majority of Indians consume news/information on social media platforms much before they reach out for the newspaper or turn on the television. In the race to ‘break’ stories, many media organizations and news platforms also pick up information from ‘viral social media claims’, which is a practice fraught with risks. Hence, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that this year, mainstream media outlets were at the forefront of spreading misinformation.

Alt News published 462 fact-check articles this year, debunking misinformation and misleading claims. Each Alt News fact-check article is a source of metadata. It documents sources of misinformation (news outlets, political parties, prominent personalities etc), types of misinformation (religious, political, communal, history, defence, economics, etc), and other crucial data points which help in understanding major trends of misinformation. For the 2022 roundup, the members of Alt News staff captured various data points from 475 fact checks and reports published throughout the year to deduce major themes and trends related to misinformation. After two weeks of sifting through that data, we classified them into various groups and decided to publish a two-part year-ender series mapping categories, themes, sources and targets of misinformation throughout the year.

This story, the second of the series, explores the major sources (media, political parties, celebrities) and targets of misinformation in 2022.

Web of False Claims Surrounding Headline-Making Events

This year, Alt News fact-checked a number of purported ‘news’ stories. We noticed that on multiple instances, media outlets did not invest their resources in verifying such claims before publishing reports on them. The above graphic charts the headline-making events round the year around which false claims and misinformation peaked.

Political Parties Peddling Misinformation

The BJP and Congress shared a flurry of claims targeting one another during the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. As per our compilagtion, as many as 124 fact-check articles in 2022 examined false claims circulated by political parties and leaders and activists associated with them. BJP and its leaders shared the maximum amount of misinformation in 2022, with a share of 48.1%.

Congress and its leaders accounted for 33.8% of misinformation in this category. The Aam Aadmi Party and its leaders were found sharing misinformation eight times according to our database, which comprised 10.4% of the overall data.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict was the theme of 18% Alt News fact checks this year, as the first story in this series shows. BJP leaders claimed several times that Prime Minister Modi intervened to stop the war temporarily in order to evacuate Indian students trapped in the war zone, whereas in fact, the ministry of external affairs itself denied this claim in clear terms.

Similarly, various Congress leaders shared false information about Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra in their overzealousness to prove the success of the march. In October, they falsely shared footage of massive crowds gathered at a festival in Andhra Pradesh as praise for the impressive public participation in the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

After a careful analysis of these figures, we found that political parties promoted these false claims either while praising their own party or while targeting the opposition party or their leaders. According to our metadata, among prominent political personalities, Rahul Gandhi was targeted the highest number of times in 2022, followed by Arvind Kejriwal and Narendra Modi.

In January 2022, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra and the BJP Punjab handle tweeted a video of Rahul Gandhi in which he was purportedly eating food while wearing a mask. However, this claim was made on the basis of a cropped video.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the online Davos Agenda 2022 summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on January 17, during which he suddenly stopped speaking. Against this backdrop, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party leaders claimed that PM Modi’s teleprompter had malfunctioned which led to the interruption. In reality, the leader was forced to stop mid-speech due to a technical glitch.

Political Leaders Amplifying Misinformation

After sifting through all instances of false claims amplified by political leaders this year, Alt News found that the most frequent promoters of misinformation were BJP’s Naveen Kumar Jindal and Prashant Patel Umrao. The two were found sharing misinformation nine times each in our fact checks. These figures come from our 124 fact-check reports recording cases of misinformation shared by individuals associated with major political parties.

Amit Malviya and Kapil Mishra were found making false claims seven and six times, respectively. The chart below captures the statistics of misinformation shared by prominent politicians in 2022.

In April 2022, following the violent clashes in JNU on Ram Navami, BJP Delhi spokesperson Naveen Kumar Jindal shared a few photos on Twitter and falsely claimed that a group of female students of the institute were faking their injuries.

In November, Amit Malviya shared a video of Rahul Gandhi claiming that the Congress chief was performing aarti in the wrong direction. This video featured the Narmada Aarti performed by Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Malviya’s claim was found to be false, as Gandhi was, indeed, performing the aarti in the right direction.

Influencers and Verified Channels

Verified Twitter accounts affiliated with political parties and having wide following on social media were found misleading their followers by sharing false information on several occasions in 2022. As many as 157 fact-check articles this year analysed misinformation coming from such verified handles and popular ‘influencers’. The visual below lists some of the prominent personalities found sharing misinformation most often.

The chart above illustrates that journalist Sagar Kumar of Sudarshan News and pro-BJP propaganda website Kreately Media shared the most number of false claims in 2022. It is worth noting that Kumar has more than 84,000 followers on Twitter. While Kreately Media’s Twitter handle is suspended for the time being, as per its archives, the account had a whopping 1,39,000 followers before any action was taken. When handles with such a large following share misinformation, it is inevitable that they spread like wildfire.

Back in September 2022, Sagar Kumar tweeted a picture claiming that children were being provided apples, ice-cream and paneer subzi as part of the mid-day meal at a government school in Uttar Pradesh. This was a completely misleading claim. Kreately Media tweeted a video of female protesters taking to the streets without any clothes as visuals of anti-hijab demonstrations in Iran. In reality, this footage was not taken from the protests in Iran, but was from a different demonstration on violence against women.

Apart from this, Alt News found columnist Tarek Fatah and Ashok Shrivastava of DD News sharing false information five times each. It is worth noting that Fatah and Shrivastava have more than 7 lakh and 2 lakh Twitter followers, respectively. The latter tweeted a video from Uttar Pradesh falsely claiming that a madrasa was operating inside a government school in Delhi. Fateh too has been caught sharing wrong information online several times. In fact, the list of false claims promoted by him is so long that Alt News documented it in a separate report, which readers can find here.

How Media Outlets Faltered

Followers of Alt News would be aware that in 2022, media outlets acted as source of misinformation on innumerable occasions. The chart below provides figures on which media outlet shared misinformation how many times, as documented by Alt News in its fact-check reports.

We documented 45 instances of Times Group outlets (Times Now, Times Now Navbharat, The Times of India, Economic Times, Navbharat Times, Mirror Now) sharing misinformation in 2022, followed by the Zee Media Group at 32. The India Today Group, which comprises the popular Hindi news channel Aaj Tak, faltered on 23 instances. It is worth noting that both India Today and Dainik Jagran are certified by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) and have dedicated fact-checking teams.

In addition, Right-Wing propaganda website OpIndia was seen sharing misinformation on 18 counts this year.

In May, media outlets, including NDTV, ABP News and Punjab Kesari covered the arrest of Delhi minister Satyendar Jain by the Enforcement Directorate. They carried a picture of Jain allegedly bleeding from his mouth, when, in fact, it was the reflection of a tree on the car window.

In 2022, Alt News fact-checked several false claims by media outlets regarding pro-Pakistan sloganeering in public gatherings. For example, claims of purported slogans of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ being raised at the PFI protest were made by a number of prominent media outlets including ANI, NDTV, The Hindu, and The Times of India. In our in-depth investigation, we found these claims to be completely false. There were also other instances as well, in which media organisations promoted false claims of pro-Pakistan sloganeering as factual. (Example 1, Example 2)

We also observed a new avatar of misinformation in the form of scripted videos. In such videos, content creators would post clips on various social issues with blink-and-you-miss-it disclaimers. This leads a lot of people to believe and share them as real. on several occasions, even media outlets took such dramatic videos as real incidents this year. Among them were outlets like Times Now and Dainik Jagran who amplified a scripted video of a drunken groom garlanding his sister-in-law as a real incident. Similarly, another dramatized video of a groom refusing to marry due to non-payment of dowry was also aired by some media organisations like Indian Express, NDTV, and DNA India.

In April, right-wing propaganda channel Sudarshan News claimed in a segment that only Muslims were given jobs in the government-owned company Pawan Hans Limited. However, in our investigation, Alt News found this was nothing but propaganda based on incomplete information.

Documenting Hate Speech

This year, Alt News worked tirelessly to identify individuals making inflammatory speeches on various platforms, and reported them to the relevant social media platforms. We identified one such address given by Yati Narsinghanand at a public gathering, which had long been present in the public domain via YouTube. However, despite the policies they had in place, social media sites could not take appropriate actions on such videos containing hate speech. It is worth noting that in December 2021, Narsinghanand issued an incendiary speech from the public forum of the Haridwar Dharma Sansad. This triggered outrage across the country due to which he was later arrested. Exactly two months later, he got bail and was released on the condition that he would not issue any more provocative statements. However, he continued to do so in an open violation of his bail conditions. Several such videos of Yati Narsinghanand were uploaded on YouTube in which he was seen inciting Hindus against Muslims. Readers can find our comprehensive analysis of these here.

Another continued trend seen this year was videos fomenting rumours of child kidnapping. There were reports from several states in which mobs of locals violently attacked people suspecting them of being child-abductors. Alt News tried to uncover the pattern underlying the proliferation of child-theft rumours on social media. We found that dramatized videos of alleged child-kidnapping incidents had been circulating on social media for quite some time. In addition, we also found many such graphic videos on YouTube which were shared as footage of child-kidnapping gangs in action.

In a June 6 interview with ANI, Isha Foundation Founder Jaggi Vasudev – popularly known as Sadhguru – stated that India had not seen a ‘major’ incident of communal violence in the last five to six years or decade. He added that there were no recorded instances of intolerance or communal violence in the country. However, when our team analysed Sadhguru’s statement, it was quickly found to be misleading when examined alongside NCRB statistics. Readers can access Alt News’ analysis of Sadhguru’s statement here.

As 2022 comes to an end, misinformation and false claims setting up political narratives remains a worrying trend. This year, we observed how mainstream media faltered in the face of this explosion of misinformation, and at times, proved complicit in it. Equally concerning was the misuse of social media platforms by influencers and prominent users associated with political parties.

Note: The figures mentioned in this article are based on fact-check reports published by Alt News in 2022, in which we documented cases of misinformation being shared by the media and prominent individuals and organisations.

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