Sat, Mar 09, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Kashmir ‘fake news’ raises fears for Indian elections

FERTILE GROUND:Tech firms have promised stricter monitoring and press training, but some experts say they are ineffective and only enacted after the Kashmir crisis


A newspaper vendor in New Delhi on July 10 last year reads a newspaper with a full back-page advertisement from WhatsApp intended to counter fake information.

Photo: AFP

A deluge of online hoaxes that hit Indian social media as the nation fought aerial battles with Pakistan has heightened fears over the “fake news” war looming in its national election.

Agence France-Presse has published more than 30 fact-check blogs debunking false claims made on Facebook and other social networks about the stand-off over Kashmir.

Experts said it was just the tip of the iceberg and that India would be the biggest misinformation challenge among a host of closely watched elections around the world this year.

The government is expected to soon announce dates for the six-week-long vote across the nation of 1.3 billion people.

More than 460 million people are online in India, but digital literacy is often poor, which only helps the spread of fake videos, photographs and messages that incite lynch mobs, communal violence and hardcore support for the main political parties.

“Ahead of the elections, I believe our workload is going to increase. We have seen a lot of disinformation after Kashmir and the airstrikes, and we are expecting much more,” said Pratik Sinha, head of the Indian fact-checking site Alt News.

“Disinformation in elections could be anything from fake quotes attributed to politicians ... [to] false propaganda,” he added, predicting even more anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

A Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Kashmir that left 40 Indian paramilitaries dead set off the hostilities. India blamed Pakistan and launched an airstrike, while social media misinformation tried to whip up jingoistic fervor.

Multiple viral posts wrongly labeled videos of Russian army drills as a display of Indian military might, while the footage in a “breaking” news report of Pakistani tanks moving toward the border with India was in fact two years old.

Such posts are frequently spread by nationalistic pages with names such as “I love Pakistan,” “Pak Army” and “Proud to be an Indian,” which has more than 2 million followers.

One video, of a 2014 military air show in Islamabad, was used to push separate false claims in both India and Pakistan.

Indian social media accounts and TV channels said the footage was of Indian airstrikes carried out in Pakistan, but Pakistani Facebook users and newspapers said it showed Pakistani jets chasing Indian planes out of their airspace.

Political campaigners took advantage of the showdown to “grind their own axes,” said Rajesh Upadhyay, editor-in-chief at Hindi-language news group Jagran New Media.

“Some of this content was indeed aimed at stoking extreme nationalistic sentiment, but a bigger percentage of it was politically motivated and click-bait driven,” he said.

A 2013 video of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling the wife of a man who died at one of his rallies was republished online two days after the bombing.

Its caption said he was speaking to the widow of a “martyr,” a word routinely used in India after soldiers are killed in action.

Simultaneously, another post set out to disparage Modi: It contained a photograph purportedly showing the prime minister shaking hands with the head of a Pakistan-based Islamic group listed by the UN and US as a terrorist organization.

“See for yourself who is a traitor,” that post’s caption said.

However, the photograph had been doctored, with the militant group chief’s head pasted onto the body of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif when he met Modi in 2015.

This story has been viewed 3029 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top