The Hindu Explains: From Telangana’s fight against fake news to India-Iran oil trade

Telangana, where fake news is facing a tough fightback

Rema Rajeshwari Superintendent of Police of Telangana’s Gadwal district. File

Rema Rajeshwari Superintendent of Police of Telangana’s Gadwal district. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

For four months now, Telangana has been using all hands, government machinery, village heads, folk musicians and so forth, to fight back against the spread of rumours and fake news that have taken lives.

What happened?

Three persons were killed in attacks triggered by rumours about gangs of cannibals, child-lifters and organ harvesters over the past few months. That the death toll is lower has a lot to do with how the government moved quickly to stop fake news being spread through videos and WhatsApp. Over the past couple of months, across the length and breadth of the country, mobs have beaten to death people they suspect — almost always without basis — of plotting to kidnap children to harvest their organs. Last Sunday, five persons were lynched in Dhule district of Maharashtra on suspicion of being child-lifters.

What steps did Telangana take?

First off the block was Director-General of Police Mahender Reddy who tweeted on May 22, urging the people not to believe in social media rumours on kidnappers and burglars.

“The news is totally false,” he said, asking the people to call the police in an emergency. The tweet came after a few villagers attacked a 45-year-old man while he was with his friend. The man succumbed to his injuries in Hyderabad. The two men were from a different village and were passing through when they were encountered by angry villagers who did not let them speak and thrashed them. On May 26, a driver was lynched on the outskirts of the city. On the same night, a transgender was lynched. She had come to Hyderabad, along with two others, from a neighbouring village for alms that are liberally given during Ramzan.

Telangana, where fake news is facing a tough fightback
 

Police officials have adopted both modern and age-old methods to fight rumour-mongering. For example, Rema Rajeshwari, Superintendent of Police in Gadwal district, roped in village drummers to spread the word. In Hyderabad, officials have erected flex boards in regional languages at railway stations, bus stops and city junctions to stop the rumour mills. Police officials have even roped in religious leaders to alert them to fake news. But instead of limiting it to a one-off awareness campaign, the police are conducting regular meetings in villages which are more vulnerable. The citizen-engagement programme is in its fourth month in some places where police officials have been assigned areas for creating awareness.

Along with these proactive steps, more than a dozen young men have been picked up for spreading rumours on WhatsApp groups. A few ‘social media journalists’ have also fallen into the police dragnet after they forwarded messages. Senior police officials have taken to social media to spread multi-lingual messages against fake news.

Why are migrants vulnerable?

Some of the videos being shared are extremely gruesome. One of the videos that went viral is from Karachi in Pakistan, meant to show how easily children can be kidnapped. Other fake news forwards doing the rounds spoke about the gangs being unfamiliar with the local language. This has made many individuals in Telangana particularly vulnerable as a large number of workers and migrants have moved into the booming metropolis of Hyderabad and its surrounding areas.

Will the rumours stop?

A behaviour psychiatrist from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences says this is mob psychology at play rather than hysteria or mass or group hysteria. “Responsibility is diffused in a mob. This empowers the participants in a big way, leading them to behave irresponsibly. It takes very strong action to dissuade the mob,” says Dr. M. Manjula of NIMHANS. “Only a sustained awareness campaign over a long period of time can stop this rumourmongering as it involves children, and people are very sensitive and attached to children.” So, in a sense, the Telangana administration and police are on the right path.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 5:47:57 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/telangana/telangana-where-fake-news-is-facing-a-tough-fightback/article24361272.ece

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