Bengal under attack, from fake news and images

TMC MP Derek O Brien says, there will be an all party meeting and the issue will be raised inside the parliament

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When Souvik Sarkar, a teenager from West Bengal’s Rudrapur village, was posting a “religiously insensitive” morphed image or meme on his timeline in Facebook, he perhaps failed to understand the futility of his action. No sooner than his post was made public, that the image made its way to most preferred way of spreading news or information these days – WhatsApp. It’s free, it’s cheap and it results are effective for those wanting spread hatred through fake news and information across India, like a wild fire.

The circulation of fake news, it seems is directly proportional to the building up of communal tension in Bengal. A day after Eid, Shankhayug, a Bengali newspaper in Bashirhat carried a fake news, labelling an Islamic flag as Pakistani flag being flown in the area to commemorate Eid celebration. Adding fuel to the fire was Sarkar’s post, which made some fundamentalist Muslim leaders to go on a rampage.

What followed was a large scale violence in Baduria, as a section of Muslim fanatics, incited by the derogatory meme took law and order in their hands. The violence, so far has had a single casualty – a 65-year-old man whom BJP is claiming to be their party worker. He was stabbed to death by a mob, which most are presuming were Muslim fanatics.

Fake Alert

The circulation of fake news, it seems is directly proportional to the building up of communal tension in Bengal. A day after Eid, Shankhayug, a Bengali newspaper in Bashirhat carried a fake news, labelling an Islamic flag as Pakistani flag being flown in the area to commemorate Eid celebration. Adding fuel to the fire was Sarkar’s post, which made some fundamentalist Muslim leaders to go on a rampage.

However, the agenda of the perpetrators of fake news didn’t end with the violence. Adding to the tension were other fake news of riots doing the rounds. Soon, after the news of the Baduria violence went viral, social media got flooded with more fake news. First news was circulated that Muslims were demanding that Souvik be stoned to death, and an image was also circulated purportedly of his family members including his mother and it was said that they got attacked. The truth was that not only Souvik but his family was saved by his Muslims neighbours.

Later, a BJP member Vijeta Malik shared a picture of Bhojpuri film, claiming it to be evidence of how women in Baduria were being raped by Jihadis or Islamist. So, much so, BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, got a flak for passing off Photoshopped images of the 2002 Gujarat riots as that if Baduria’s images.

When there are no fake news and images circulating with the Bengal agenda, then instigating hashtags are run by certain news channels. Is it just a coincidence that almost all the fake news, images, or instigating hashtags are being circulated either by BJP leaders, supporters or BJP backed channels?

Bengal Takes on Cyber hate mongers

The silver lining, in the Baduria incident, was the Bengal police coming into action to take on those spreading communalism on social media. Speaking to eNewsroom, ADG CID, Rajesh Kumar, said, “We have already arrested two people with regards to sharing fake news on Social Media. We blocked several YouTube channels, pulled off inflammatory videos that had been posted to create a communal backlash in Bengal.” On being asked about political leaders or famous personalities sharing such contents, he said, “We will definitely investigate their posts and if found guilty, action will taken.”

Fake News, Bengal
A tweet from Kolkata Police

He also, had a warning for those who just keep pressing the share button, “You will be responsible for what you share. Please don’t share content that can instigate communal tension. If found guilty, we will take stern action against such people.”

Kolkata and Bengal Police, have since then been issuing images, messages and video warning people to use social media for social networking and not to spread hate.

Eyes on Bengal

A lesson needs to be learnt from the incident. With instances of communalism on the rise, morphed images, memes and photoshopped content will be shared more regularly on social media. Many believe that the trend will continue till 2019 Elections. Author Devdan Chauhari, in one of his article, pointed out that RSS’s dream of creating a Hindu Rashtra will only materialise when Bengal gets saffronised. He categorically stated, “The chances of communal tension in Bengal will be on the rise, till 2019 General Elections.”

Ringing the alarm bell at the Parliament

TMC leader Derek O Brian, on being contacted said, “We will be raising the issue with all other parties at the Parliament, the day after. Fake news, is dangerous and we need to weed it out. I have always alerted people about fake news, will be doing it once again.” Other political parties, in Bengal, seem to have the same say on this issue.

A way out

So, what’s the best way to deal with this web of lies and fake news? Answering that, fake news encounter specialist and Alt News founder, Pratik Sinha says, “Well, there is no fixed guideline that I can share to make people understand the difference between fake and real. But, yes, we need to be alert. We should be cautious of sharing religiously sensitive news or posts without cross checking facts. If you have doubts then don’t share.”

He further added, “To check authenticity of picture, opt for Google Reverse Image search. It helps in most cases to identify the original image. It in a way can help you decided on the fate of the post  that you want to share.”

What makes Bengal, a difficult turf?

Fake news and Sarkar’s morphed image might have triggered violence for a brief span of time. But residents, both Hindu and Muslims, realising their folly, took on the task of reuniting. A day after the riots, broke out, news of both the community members are working hard to restore back the peace. So, if Amirul Haque did his best to save Sarkar’s family, then there were news of Hindu youths guarding mosques alongside Muslims. News of Muslims pooling in money to restore shops and homes of those affected during the riots is also making the rounds.

“It will not be easy for BJP to take over Bengal that easily. Here people are more united than other parts of India. Had Bashirhat incident happened in another state, I am sure there wold have been more deaths. Here it was a riot and there was only one casualty. People are more secular here and they realise their folly. Look how the Muslim community is coming forward to help their brethren on realising their mistake. Such a thing only Bengalis can do. For, us our Bengali identity comes first and then our religious identity,” summed up Supratim Sengupta, one of the #Notinmyname participant from Kolkata.

The message to Mamata Banerjee is that deal sternly with anti-social elements but deal more strongly with anti-nationals who circulate fake images and videos to instigate riots and help anti-social elements.

Image courtesy of Arranged

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