October 11th, 2017
Nearly 400 migrant workers have fled Kozhikode district after fake audio clips that surfaced on WhatsApp about migrant workers from East and North India facing death threats in Kerala, according to a report by The Newsminute.
The rumours were spread through WhatsApp audio clips and messages. One of these fake clips mentioned that a hotel owner in Sweet Meat Street in Kozhikode thrashed a Bengali worker and later hanged him to death. The false campaigns also used videos of mob lynching to scare and trigger panic among workers. The rumours were spread mainly among the workers from Assam, Bengal and Orissa.
Two hotels remained shut as many of the workers fled to their home states. One migrant worker, Saddam said, “These are baseless rumours spreading the social media. These audio clips aren’t true. We don’t have such threats against us in Kerala,” as reported by The Newsminute. A lot of the workers are now fleeing their city even before collecting their due wages.
Apart from the two-and-a-half minute long audio clips, there were video clips and photos as well, supporting killings of migrant workers in other parts of the country. The messages have wrongly influenced several persons, as many connected it with the recent suicide of a migrant hotel labourer in the city.
Reaction of the restaurant owners
District President of Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHRA) Muhammad Suhail said, “We should inform the families of the migrant workers about the false campaign. The government has to take immediate action. Hotels are in fact the safest for migrant workers in terms of food and shelter.”
According to a report by the New Indian Express, city police chief, S Kaliraj Mahesh Kumar said, “Usually migrants leave Kerala during this time of the year to celebrate festivals. Rumour mongers are using it to spread panic and give a new twist to it.” The police chief further added that they would definitely probe the issue in detail.
Shihabuddin N, the owner of Central Hotel in Ramanattukara, said he couldn’t open the restaurant for the past two days as 26 migrant labourers, who were staff at the hotel returned to West Bengal after the scare campaign. He added, “We tried our level best to persuade them that they are safe here. But they didn’t listen and left en masse.”
The sudden exodus of the migrant labourers led the hotel entrepreneurs to face an unexpected setback. They have asked the government to launch an awareness campaign to explain the ground reality to the migrant workers.
Steps taken by the government
According to a report by The Hindu, the town police have started a probe into the incident, where three Hindi voice clips were circulated with a claim that the Kerala government has ordered the killing of all Hindi-speaking people in the state. The investigation is now underway on a complaint filed by the KHRA.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday assured migrant workers in the state that they were safe and those spreading rumours about the danger to their lives will be brought to justice, said a report by The Scroll.
The CM of Kerala tweeted,
Kerala society is rooted in harmony. It will always remain as one of the best states in the country for people to work & live in.
— CMO Kerala (@CMOKerala) October 9, 2017
The Ernakulam District Collector K Mohammed Y Safirulla on Monday urged migrant labourers in the state need not panic and that they were safe. He said, “Strict action will be taken against anyone found spreading such rumours. The Labour Department will conduct a field inspection after visiting migrant camps. A mass programme for migrant workers will be organised to figure out the issues.”
Kozhikode alone has 5000 workers from states like Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam. Kerala has a migraint population of 2.5 million.
The Logical Indian take
Fake news consists of news stories designed to mislead readers into believing falsehoods. They are created to spread propaganda to defame an individual or organisation. Unlike news satire which is meant to entertain, fake news is meant to misinform.
Making up news stories to fool or entertain the public is not a new trend. There are hundreds of fake news websites out there, many of which deliberately imitate credible newspapers in format and design, and trend misinformation.
The potential to cause damage becomes more powerful over time. It reinforces people’s beliefs and falsely confirms their prejudices.
With the rising popularity of social media news, fake news creators are becomingly increasingly successful at creating viral stories. Earlier this year, there have been cases where fake news has led to the breaking out of communal violence in Basirhat, West Bengal and many other parts of the country. Portals that create such fake news should be shut down with actions taken against those who run them.
We live in a time when fake news cannot be ignored anymore as false stories are now literally taking lives of people. Jharkhand mob lynching which took lives of 7 people was instigated by fake photos/videos forwarded on WhatsApp. People were gullible enough to believe fake news as true.
As we progress into an era where profits and political agenda are top priorities, separating such news from the real ones is getting even more difficult. The need of the hour is to unitedly condemn fake news and ensure that it does not cause collateral damage to human life. The Logical Indian community urges the concerned authorities in Kerala to take strict action against the ones spreading the rumours.