After Pulwama: India faces fake news attack, fact checkers fight back

February 23,2019

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ISLAMABAD: After Pulwama suicide blast, the next attack India faced was of fake news. There was no country to blame; it was home-grown and viraled through social media. Different twitter handles were at work ably aided by WhatsApp messenger.

Where some media houses amplified these rumours, a FactCheck organisation was busy in busting them. “We have been fact checking since November 2016. Never before has one incident taught us so many things about new forms of #fakeimages #Pulwamaattack,” tweeted Jency Jacob late Monday.

He is the managing editor of BOOM which is fighting fake news and disinformation in India where many people have been killed on the basis of rumours spread through social media. As Jency’s tweet implies, the post-attack storm was less to do with fake news and more with fake photos which tends to be more viral than misinformation.

BOOM produced 25 stories relating to the fakery after Pulwama attack only. They range from photo-shopped images of the top opposition leader posing with the suicide bomber to edited videos showing a key Congress party figure smiling on the tragedy to the false footage of attack and shooting down of Pakistani plane etc.

Included among them was the fake image of Pulwama attack’s alleged mastermind, Abdul Rashid Ghazi alias Kamran. Four days after the attack, BOOM reported, the news broke that Ghazi had been killed in an encounter. Various news outlets like India Today, The Economic Times, ABP News carried the photo of Ghazi wearing a black uniform with a walki talki in his hand and baton attached to his belt.

This is how India Today’s anchor broke this story on TV: “For the first time on India Today you are seeing images of the mastermind, the Afghan IED expert who is believed to have trained Ahmed Dar….These are the first pictures sent to us from Srinagar by our bureau chief there, Ashraf Wani. The first set of pictures on TV of this terrorist,”

BOOM got alerted after a twitter user raised questions about the authenticity of the picture. “Why is the picture of terrorist has 1) police taser on one hand, 2) police baton on the other side, 3) police radio in probably Swiss-made watch wearing hand? Does anybody know this uniform,” Shuvankar Mukhrjee tweeted. Further investigation of BOOM found a mobile application where a user could add any photo to a police uniform.

Likewise, an article went viral suggesting that Pakistan Army shot down its own plane fearing Indian retaliation for the Pulwama attack. The article originally appeared on the website and then carried by a Facebook page ‘Namo Bharath – Narendra Modi for PM’ and onward. Although the website has put a disclaimer that its content is satirical and fictional in nature, since there was no disclaimer on the article under question, readers took it real as shared on Facebook.

The first fake image that BOOM spotted after Pulwama attack was of Rahul Gandhi, President of Congress party. He was shown in the image with the suicide bomber of Pulwama attack, Adil Ahmed Dar who was propagated as close aide of Rahul. Intended objective was to brand him a traitor. The photo went viral on Facebook with a caption in Hindi holding Congress party responsible for the attack. A reverse image search by BOOM found that original photo dated back to 2014 in Uttar Pardesh and the man beside Rahul was Adil Dar.

Rahul’s charismatic sister, Priyanka Gandhi, was also the target. A cropped video was being shared on twitter with claim that she was laughing during a press conference while addressing the death of Indian soldiers at Pulwama. The edited video was tweeted by a couple of twitter handlers which are also followed by Indian PM Narendra Modi and have shared misinformed in the past two.


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