The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) has published a step-by-step guide for law enforcement agencies to identify “fake news” and videos intended to spread panic through hatred and communal violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The think-tank under the Union Home Ministry, in the detailed guide, has said “digital news has brought back and increased the usage of fake news or yellow journalism” usually “published with the intent to damage an agency, entity or a person and gain financially or politically “often using sensationalist, dishonest or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership.”
To explain the communal aspect, the guidelines include a screenshot of a fake video which accused Muslims of licking cleaned plates and spoons to “transfer the virus to people at large.”
It also attached a clip where miscreants used fake URLs to mislead people who wanted to donate to PM-CARES fund.
The guidelines ask police and other investigating agencies to use open domain tools such as Google Reverse Image search, www.pic2map.com , www.fotoforensics.com www.metapicz.com/#landing https://29a.ch/photo-forensics/#forensic-magnifier etc., for collecting more information on fake videos.
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The research body, however, cautioned that the “Investigating officer may consider the case sensitivity because these websites are hosted on foreign servers/cloud systems, that may influence or mislead the investigation due to data leakage.”
The manual said some points to identify fake news were when headlines, visuals or captions do not support the content or when “genuine contents or sources are impersonated with false or made-up sources” and content is fabricated to deceive and harm. It said there was another category of satire or parody where the intention is not cause harm but has the potential to fool people.
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The manual suggests that to spot fake news, the investigating officer stay alert to clues such as language since such websites and links usually have spelling mistakes and adds that officials must look for indicative signs to check if the information is accurate.
“Photos, audio recordings, and videos can be edited to mislead the recipient. Look at trusted news sources to verify whether the story is being reported elsewhere. When a story is reported in multiple places, it is more likely to be true,” the manual said, asking the officers to read beyond “outrageous” headlines designed to attract clicks. It asked them to read the whole story and also do a “quick search on the author” if he or she is “reliable and real.”
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“The extensive spread of fake news has the potential to gravely impact individuals as well as the society at large. Therefore, fake news detection in cyber space has become an important issue for the law enforcement agencies. The step-by-step procedure will assist LEAs in spotting and investigating fake news in a systematic manner. It will also help in effective prosecution of offenders involved in such mischievous acts,” said the guidelines.
The manual also gives an indicative list of websites that could be accessed for fact-checking including thehindu.com , pib.gov.in and reporterlabs.org among others.