On April 7, the Ayodhya police in Uttar Pradesh put out a video tweet appealing people to not post and share unverified news and rumours on social media.
In the video, the city’s senior superintendent of police, Ashish Tiwari, said: “Fake news is a major problem of our times. It means the kind of news which is false, misleading and can potentially create mistrust among people. This leads to a lot of rumours. We need to fight this menace together and therefore I request your cooperation. You can help by not posting anything on social media without verifying. For this, you can use UP Police Viral Check and online platforms like Alt News and PIB Fact Check for the purpose. Please do this. Otherwise you can be punished under IT Act.”
While theUP Police Viral Check and PIB Fact Check are platforms launched by the government, Alt News is a private, independent fact checker. The portal is known for debunking a range of misinformation over the past few years. Its co-founder Pratik Sinha shared the Ayodhya police’s tweet.
Curiously, the tweet was soon deleted.
When contacted by Newslaundry, a senior officer in the Ayodhya police department said, on the condition of anonymity, that he was unaware of the matter. “If that has happened, it was surprising considering the importance of the message. I will have to look into it before commenting further."
Fake news and rumours targeting Muslims have been abundant ever since the Tablighi Jamaat made news for its controversial gathering in Delhi last month. Across states, hundreds of cases of the novel coronavirus have been traced to the religious congregation that was held in the middle of March. This has been used an opportunity by many to target the minority community of indulging in a conspiracy to spread the disease in India.
The smear campaign has, however, not been limited to social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and TikTok. Several media houses have also carried unverified news reports, adding to communal tension in these difficult times. Uttar Pradesh, especially, has been a hotbed of fake news accusing Muslims of deliberately spreading the virus.
Accordingly, the state’s police department has been vigilant in debunking such misinformation. Recently, police departments in different districts called out , wire agency and newspaper for publishing fake news.
While the reasons for deleting the tweet are unclear as of now, it is possible that the mention of Alt News alerted officers at the higher level. Alt News, on many occasions in the past, has debunked fake news peddled by leaders of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party.