In a social media-driven generation, most of us at some point have shared fake or half-true news on our timelines. Sitting before our desktops or scrolling down our mobile phones, we accept any news that is thrown at us without question, especially when it is shared by relatively credible media houses or public personalities. We have an expectation that what we read is true.
However, not all that we read is true. Too many news stories these days are fake, half-true, planted or outdated.
The problem of fake news is becoming a crisis in India, especially when credible media houses with millions of readers widely share such false stories.
Here is a breakdown of fake/false news, mainstream media misreporting, and public personalities spreading misinformation in the past weekend.
1) Times Now shares a seven-year-old Photoshopped image of religious “conversion rate card”
Times Now recently ran a prime-time story on how “ISIS has set up base in India”. Reporting from Kasargod, Kerala, which they branded as “India’s Gaza”, the news channel publicised an alleged “rate card” – which proved that people were being monetarily rewarded for converting Hindus to Islam.
— BOOM FactCheck (@boomlive_in) June 23, 2017
Times Now was quoted by Alt News as saying, “I can’t even begin to tell you ladies and gentlemen the kind of insidious fine print that is on this rate card, to convert Hindus, caste Brahmins, you have to pay five lakhs, you get paid five lakhs ladies and gentlemen. A Hindu Brahmin girl – five lakhs, seven lakh rupees for a Sikh Punjabi gal, for a Gujarati Brahmin and so on and so forth, Hindu Kshatriya gal – four and a half lakhs, Hindu OBC/SC/ST – two lakhs, Buddhist girl – one and a half lakh, a Jain girl 3 lakh rupees, the caliphate has put a price on your faith.”
Times Now called the social media backlash against it a “mischievous attempt at misrepresentation” but conceded that the source of the “rate card” was not confirmed – or known to the news organisation. Given the divisive nature of this news story, one would expect Times Now to apoligise for airing such a story based on unconfirmed facts. However, Times Now is yet to issue an apology. You can read the whole report here.
2) Speech- and hearing-impaired man trolled as “drunkard”
Following the inauguration of the Kochi Metro, a photograph spread online of a man sleeping on a seat, spread out, aloof of his crowded surroundings. This photo was ridiculed widely and he was branded as the “first drunkard” of Kochi Metro.
However, when Manorama caught up with the man, it came to be known that the man was speech and hearing impaired and he was returning from the hospital after visiting his brother who was in a critical condition. Tired and frustrated, the man – whose name is Eldho – lay down inside the metro to rest himself, his family said.
His family and neighbours requested social media users to leave him alone.
3) Tarek Fatah shares video of girl being hit on the head, wrongly claims it is because she was not wearing a hijab
Man upset at seeing girls cycling without Hijab, slaps one on her head. Coming soon to a neighbourhood near you. pic.twitter.com/dc8QUcpaaV
— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) June 25, 2017
Columnist and author Tarek Fatah recently posted a widely shared video on Twitter. The video showed three girls playing in the open before a man arrives on the scene and brutally hits one of the girls. According to Fatah, this was because the girls were not wearing hijabs.
Shocking | An attacker who was hitting a 9-year-old girl with a rock in Samsun Turkey got arrested while harassing another girl was released pic.twitter.com/8mTUfPWiRx
— Turkey Deeply (@TurkeyDeeply) June 25, 2017
However, there is no factual basis for this claim. According to an Alt News investigation, “The actual story is that a 9-year-old girl was assaulted in the month of February 2017 in a province called Samsun in Turkey. She was hit very hard on the back of her head by either a stone or a piece of wood after which she fell down and fainted and the man fled the scene. She was taken to the hospital and is reportedly in good health now. At that point of time, a police complaint was filed and the footage from a security camera was recovered which captured the act of this girl being assaulted. 2 months later, in the month of April, the same person was arrested for harassing another woman at a bus-stand. Based on security camera footage, it was determined that the person who had assaulted the 9-year-old girl riding the bicycle is the same person caught for harassing the woman at the bus-stand.”
Fatah is yet to issue a clarification.
4) World’s second-most valuable cryptocurrency loses $4 billion over fake news of its founder’s death
Russia-born Vitalik Buterin is the 21-year-old co-founder of Ethereum, the world’s second-most valuable cryptocurrency.
A 4Chan post alleging that Buterin had died in a car crash went viral in the past few days. “Vitalik Buterin confirmed dead. Insiders unloading ETH” read the title of the post on 4Chan, the notorious online message board frequented by internet trolls. “Fatal car crash … Now we have our answer. He was the glue.”
Ethereum’s price has risen by 50 times this year so far, and many market watchers have wondered when the gains would stop. The price was already in the midst of a sudden decline yesterday that saw about $4 billion wiped off its total market value, and according to the post, Buterin’s untimely death explained it and heralded a crash.
Buterin posted a selfie on Twitter to prove that he was alive and well. After the hoax was called out, the currency recovered about 10%.
Another day, another blockchain use case. pic.twitter.com/OyHzdhEeGR
— Vitalik Buterin (@VitalikButerin) June 26, 2017
5) Fake story of “miracle baby” who survived Grenfell Fire sparks anger
The Grenfell Tower fire started on 14 June 2017 at Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey, 220-foot high tower block of public housing flats in London. It resulted in at least 79 fatalities, over 70 injuries and severe damage to the building.
This unfortunate disaster was also exploited to spread fake news.
A story about a baby surviving the fire and being rescued from the 16th floor was shared widely on social media. Using a BBC “breaking news” image, a link to the story then sent people to a website bearing a “Metro” logo. The story was fake and neither organisation had anything to do with the story.
The author claimed that both London’s Metropolitan Police and Mayor Sadiq Khan had confirmed the baby’s survival. Neither had.
Creating or sharing fake news is never justified. We have a responsibility to verify everything that we post on the internet. To ensure that our national debate is healthy and well-informed, each and every one of us has a responsibility of treating what we read with a pinch of salt, a spoonful of doubt, and a flood of research.