“Is it true….” Many a fake news has been spread on Twitter by prefixing this phrase. The pattern is familiar. Share patently fake news but position yourself as asking an innocent question. And then sit back and watch your followers attack the target and spread the fake news far and wide. This is exactly what happened recently with S. Gurumurthy, co-convener of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch which is affiliated with the RSS, except that this time it backfired on him. The Delhi High Court has taken suo moto cognisance of Gurumurthy’s “mischievous poser” and “innuendo-laden” tweets.
“Is it true that Justice Muralidhar who decided the Karthi petition today was a junior under PC?” Gurumurthy asked this “innocent” question on March 9th, soon after the Division Bench of Justice S Muralidhar and Justice IS Mehta had granted interim relief to Karti Chidambaram and restrained the ED from taking any coercive steps against him in relation to the INX media case, until the next hearing. Gurumurthy who is a Chartered Accountant , a writer on political, economic issues and Editor of the publication Thuglak, has over 250,000 followers on Twitter. Taking the cue from his question, they started the usual abuse, discrediting the judge and the order.
In the words of the Court:
“The above innuendo-laden tweet of Mr Gurumurthy triggered an avalanche of reactions from those following him on twitter. Many of the comments, which are not worth reproducing, while reacting to the misinformation, scandalised the Judge presiding over the bench and questioned the integrity of the judiciary as a whole”
Gurumurthy had followed his first tweet with another one. Both tweets were retweeted by prominent right-wing handles and saw a large number of comments questioning the judiciary, some of which would even amount to contempt of court.
It is sad that the SC directed the Delhi HC to hear the Karthi case instantly today (saying if not Karthi may be arrested by ED) clearly hinting that he had to be protected. And the HC protected him. It opens a flood gate for offenders — Congress is major beneficiary of this.
— S Gurumurthy (@sgurumurthy) March 9, 2018
The Court order was scathing in its comments with regard to the fact that Gurumurthy could have checked the facts if he wanted and that despite clarification from twitter users, he chose not to withdraw his false tweet.
“Being the editor of a magazine that has a wide readership in Tamil Nadu, had Mr. S. Gurumurthy cared to check, he could easily have ascertained that the presiding Judge of this Bench was as a junior of Mr. G. Ramswamy, who then was the Additional Solicitor General of India and who later was the Attorney General for India.
At no time did the presiding Judge work as a junior to Mr. P. Chidambaram, Senior Advocate, the father of the Petitioner. It is unfortunate that despite some of the tweets in response clarifying the correct factual position, Mr. Gurumurthy chose not to withdraw his mischievous and false tweet.”
Gurumurthy in the past has shared false news on many occasions and resisted deleting his tweets even after they have been proven to be conclusively false. There are several hilarious examples too like the fake news about the microchip in the Rs 2000 note, memes from Postcard news and even a hoax from The Onion about the Greek civilization being a figment of imagination. However, this time, left red-faced by the Court taking cognizance of his tweets, Gurumurthy deleted his speculative tweet.
I understand Justice Muralidharan called both side lawyers & told them that he was never PC junior. He felt sad judges have no protection against social media wrong news. Judges need it. I have deleted the tweet asking whether he was PC junior. https://t.co/EhsoIsvMXo
— S Gurumurthy (@sgurumurthy) March 12, 2018
The Court did not initiate contempt of court proceedings against Gurumurthy but left it to the ASG and the Bar to decide the course of action.
“While a fair and informed critique of judgments and orders of the Courts is welcome, it is for the learned ASG and the Bar to consider whether such tweets call for action in accordance with law.”
You can read the full order here.
Even though Gurumurthy did not sound apologetic about misleading his followers, he has deleted his mischievous tweet. It is interesting to note that it took a court order for him to withdraw his tweet. Meanwhile there are several others on his timeline in which he has persisted in spreading false news despite being repeatedly called out by Twitter users. We wait to watch whether this will be a lesson for him and if he will desist from spreading false news, hoaxes and rumours in future.
Independent journalism that speaks truth to power and is free of corporate and political control is possible only when people start contributing towards the same. Please consider donating towards this endeavour to fight fake news and misinformation.