Prithula Prosun Puja

The age of digital communication has gifted us an upsurge of social networking which implies some special drawbacks on public communications. Due to rapid propagation of digital contents on social sites, misinformation, or rumor are chasing weal or comfort within every aspects of public life.


Among the third world countries, India and Bangladesh are suffering to the worst in handling the distributions of fake news on digital spaces. Especially, India is immensely troubled by over-spread rumors in want of (a) media policy or (a) filter for verification.


According to World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 results in not only a pandemic, but also an infodemic (information epidemic) all over the world. In such a situation, realities get replaced by false information. Rumors, fake news, misinformation, or disinformation are generally used synonymously.


Rumors are fake news, but must be typically convincing which get spread with rapid motion.


Rumors are relevant, but unverified information. Misinformation and disinformation are two subsets of rumor. Whenever any false information is stretched out rapidly without any specific/structured intention, then that is called misinformation. But intentionally construed and disseminated false information aims to deceive people. This is called disinformation (Fallis, 2011, 2015).


Therefore sometimes the sources can be traced back, sometimes not.On April 18, 2020, University of Michigan pointed a rise after janata curfew announcement on March 22, 2020, in the sum of debunked misinformation. Misinformation are related with the conspiracy theories, home remedies, fake advisories, etc. (Verma et al.). Including these, religious misinformation in India invites racial rivalries, party policies, pure mischiefs, and pure economies too.


To subdue this crisis the government often shut down the internet connection across the country. But sources of religious misinformation in India hold great importance. Here also mainstream media lags behind online media. But online media is much more proactive platform for spreading rumor. The contents of the fake stories in India are about the origin, causes, spread, prevention, cure, and treatment procedures.


Fueling Islamophobia during COVID-19 got started by WhatsApp. Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter, numerous online news portals, etc. Among these all, WhatsApp is one of the most available purveyors. WhatsApp connects people through contact numbers which remain saved in their handset. Therefore, the news or stories get distributed to the close ones (family/friends/colleagues) which make them more trustworthy.


After the news of Tablighi Jamaat at Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi incident, there was a blaming tendency. There was a change in the tone of fake news-focusing on a particular community (Muslim) that was being targeted as the ‘super spreader’.


The ongoing unrest in many parts of the country between Muslims minorities and Hindu population was the major influencer of misinformation. Social sites were flooded with the news of “Muslims are throwing pieces of meat outside a Hindu temple”, “Muslims licking utensils to spread coronavirus”, “Muslim vendors are spreading coronavirus in Surat”, “A Hindu man was murdered by a Muslim man in Rajasthan”, “Muslim man injecting fruits with spittle to spread coronavirus”, etc.


Not only narratives, there were lots of previous video clips and pictures of communal violence attached with the news. These are done to make the stories touching and appealing, to make people emotional, feared, and anxious. 


Besides these, fake news about the opposite community was also drawn to claim an innocent image. Being viral, misinformation (containing provocative content) gains sudden attention to some orthodox communities which results in riots. Behind such religious propagation, there are political, economic, administrative, or cultural influences.


The Hindu-Muslim rivalries in India over the last three decades are well known. The country is facing extreme communalism within her political practices too. The incidents of Babri Masjid (1992) and posterior riots and bomb blasting, attack on Jamia Milia University students in Delhi, discriminatory movement of NRC and CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) are some clear instances of that (Sutaria, 2020).


Orthodox tendency to abolish Muslims and revamping “Indian-ness” has been the driving force of disinformation. Majoritarianism is extremely being taken care by BJP. To boost up the acceptability of their candidates and to curb opponents’ popularity, BJP’s social media army (self-reported media machine) targeted this crisis moment.


They are instigating religious rift just to ensure a favorable electoral position. Even spreading self-side negative disinformation is very common just to blame the opponent for blasphemy. 


Interestingly, there is misinformation about the Hindu majorities also. But those are generated to encourage the lay people to follow or believe that particular religious guidelines to be cured from COVID-19.


 

Such misinformation include fake prescriptions, home remedies, claims of scripture’s authentication about preventive/curative measures, indication of nobleness and popularity of the majorities, etc. 


Some of them are “Cow urine to curb coronavirus infection”, “Chinese monks sprinkling cow urine to curb coronavirus infection”, and several tweets regarding curative traditional knowledge about Ayurveda, etc.


Here there is also a political influence. A large number of Hindu nationalists and politicians from Narendra Modi’s ruling party (BJP) hold beliefs for medicinal benefits of cow urine. Moreover there is news against this too, that is- “Baba Ramdev is hospitalized as he drank excess of cow-urine to avoid being infected by coronavirus”.


There is a picture attached with this fake news where Ramdev is seen lying in hospital bed. But this is actually an old photo. It was captured when Ramdev was hospitalized after his hunger strike for nine days against black money. 


This reveals a clear indication why images are so important to be attached with fake news to make it more trustworthy. After a continuous manipulation these influences turn to be cultural influences.


Thus political influence grew out from a politically polarized society. In India, bipolar extremity gives birth to economic inequality and poverty (for the minorities). Thanks to manipulation through misinformation, the minorities loose trust on government. Out of anxiety, fear, or tension, they start to feel politically deprived.


These turn political influence to cultural influence. Thanks to poor editorial standards mainstream media may produce such click-bait stories. Again this media ecosystem is based on a one-way broadcast. To be in colloquy, platforms need to be an executive or interactive part of the discourse. Therefore, that might be another reason to produce rumors.


Because, misinformation travels fast and can earn high rate consumption in this highly competitive field.


Thus mainstream media’s complicity has added further increase in the rise of misinformation in India. That is why ensuring digital literacy for users as well as informing all the difference between fact-checked report and hearsay assertion is a crying need to control misinformation. Enforcing law won’t be enough to curb rumoring.


A technological framework may assist law department to fight against misinformation war in India. To sound the alarm on researchers need to be enthusiastic and focused to this burning issue.



By: 

Prithula Prosun Puja
Philosophy
Jahangirnagar University

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *