The bhakt fake news factory obsessing over NDTV is a gift that keeps on giving

The CBI raids might be political vendetta, but the WhatsApp forwards are a world of their own.

 |  7-minute read |   06-06-2017
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The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Monday, June 5, raided the premises of NDTV co-founders/promoters Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy. The raids were carried out at four different places in Delhi and Dehradun, including the residence of the Roys.

The CBI raids pertain to a complaint by Sanjay Dutt, the director of Quantum Services Private Limited, on April 28, 2017.

The FIR, filed by Dutt, alleges a number of violations by the Roys. It charges the Roys, their company (RRPR Holding Pvt Ltd), NDTV and “unknown officials of ICICI Bank under section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code and section 13 (2) of the Prevention of Corruption Act (1988) for “criminal conspiracy, cheating and criminal conduct”.

The CBI in its raids may have found several things, but a dartboard with Prime Minister Modi’s face and a birth certificate from Pakistan it most certainly did not.

Rumour Mills

Yesterday, the CBI raided NDTV’s owner Pranoy Roy and divulged a lot of secrets. Roy’s birth certificate was discovered and according to that his real name is Parvez Raja, and the place of his birth, Karachi. According to another secret document discovered, the full form of NDTV is Nawazud Din Taufik Venchar, the name of Pannoy Roy’s father. His wife Radhika’s real name is Rahila and her grandfather was a cook in Babar’s army. A dartboard has been found in his bedroom that uses Narendra Modi’s face as a target. Hindu brothers, it is time to open your eyes and recognise these two-faced people. Whoever does not forward this message to 10 WhatsApp groups is probably a descendant of Babar himself.

This is the text from a clearly satirical WhatsApp forward (hopefully, I mean people can’t be that dumb that they believe Radhika Roy’s grandfather was a chef in Babar’s army) that was posted on Twitter by a user known to troll the internet-bhakts. But this, sadly, is not far from the kind of propaganda that is spread on WhatsApp by people, most of which have almost zero-accuracy in terms of facts.

Hoaxes, fake facts and misinformation are what would best describe a “family WhatsApp group”. That and incessant “good morning/good night” texts.

Another WhatsApp forward alleges that Prannoy Roy hides the fact that he is the cousin of Arundhati Roy and that they are both Christian converts and use Hindu aliases to provide cover to their anti-Hindu propaganda. While it is true that they are cousins, there is absolutely no reason to believe religiosity matters to either of them. Nor is there any reason to believe that they choose to hide, or flaunt, their relation. But whatever floats the fake-news boat, right?

NDTV, in various statements after the raids, has denied any wrongdoing. In fact, it has termed the raids as "stepping up the concerted harassment" of the news channel and an attempt to "undermine democracy and free speech" and "silence the media".

While there is no way of knowing, as of now, the innocence of the channel or the insidious motives of the government, the timing is rather curious. The raids come only days after BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, who as panellist on Nidhi Razdan’s show on the channel, was asked to leave after his impolite behaviour. As was rather beautifully summarised in an op-ed on The Tribune, “...the ‘law’ is a very convenient instrument. A clear message is being sent to the media fraternity: resist at your own cost.”

But even if one does consider it pretty far-fetched that the BJP government is trying to actively suppress contrarian media voices (at least hope for it, because the alternative is another Emergency), there is no doubt that fake news is manufactured against these voices that show a certain amount of rebellion against the establishment.

The modus operandi

And how do these fake WhatsApp messages work? They attack the religion of the people involved. If the person is Muslim or Christian, then the information (or misinformation) would be somewhere in the line of them either being from Pakistan or from the Vatican. If they are Hindu, then it moves towards stating fake marriages to Muslim leaders or terrorists, or just claiming that they use false Hindu aliases for promoting their anti-Hindu views.

A good example of this is a rather famous (or notorious) WhatsApp message that suggests that former NDTV group editor Barkha Dutt is the third wife of Kashmiri economist and the finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Haseeb Drabu. It also suggests that NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan is soon to marry Omar Abdullah. Ah, well.

However, are these WhatsApp forwards sporadic and organic?

Rumours and fake news on WhatsApp is not a new phenomenon in India. In 2015, Mumbai’s police commissioner urged people to ignore WhatsApp rumours that claimed that gangs of women were kidnapping schoolchildren. In fact, a hotline was set up for anxious parents. There have been myriad rumours about HIV-infected Frooti, Kurkure made from plastic, beef and pesticides, and Aatif Aslam’s death (this happens almost every year). But the rise of pro-government/pro-Hindutva and anti-media/anti-liberal fake news is something that has seen an enormous growth in the past three years.

In her book I Am A Troll, senior journalist Swati Chaturvedi talks about an online troll factory that manufactures faux outrage to benefit the hypetrnationalistic, pro-Hindutva narrative that has reigned supreme under the NDA regime. This covert social media cell uses Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp to allegedly silence any liberal voice that dares speak against the prime minister, the rising "fascism" and the negative effects of an intolerant Hindutva regime.

Back in February, when Gurmehar Kaur came under fire for saying that it was not Pakistan, but the war that killed her father, outraged hypernationalist fake-news factories conjured social media rumours that suggested it was Barkha Dutt who planted and trained Gurmehar Kaur. 

In 2016, PostcardNews, a fake-news factory, published an article titled “The ‘Kind Young Man’ who gave lift to Barkha Dutt is Hizbul Mujaheddin Terrorist Zakir Rashid??” which featured nothing more than two grainy pictures of Barkha Dutt taking a scooter ride with some young man in Budgam juxtaposed with a picture of Hizbul chief Zakir Musa. The fact that this was easily debunked meant nothing to the social media accounts tweeting about it and the consequent WhatsApp messages being constructed about it.

The only way to filter out fake news is to be vigilant. Fake news does not need a particular medium. According to a BuzzFeed article on fake news in india, in the early 1990s, rabble-rousers in northern India used to stir up communal tension between Hindus and Muslims by mass-producing cassette recordings full of fake gunfire, screams, and chants of “Allahu-Akbar”, and playing them in car stereos at full volume in the night.

It could be WhatsApp, it could be Facebook and it could be Twitter. There's no way to stop it. Unless, of course, someone manufactures a WhatsApp message that announces "the UNESCO classifying all WhatsApp messages as fake news". Maybe then the brainwashed masses would believe it. 

Also read - Trolling MakeMyTrip for its co-founder's beef tweets shows cow bureaucracy trumps Digital India

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