April Fools’ Day: 5 times we were fooled by political misinformation on the internet

From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, from individuals to political parties, all have been at the receiving end of the “fake news” menace.

Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI file photo)

In a country like India, where elections are a perennial affair, with the advent of social media, there’s political misinformation as well as disinformation galore. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, from individuals to political parties, all have been at the receiving end of the “fake news” menace. Images as well as videos are shared on social media with misleading, manipulated or out-of-context claims, which social media users share naively, and sometimes share to discredit an individual, political party, organisation, or even an event.

Here are five times we were fooled by political misinformation on social media:

Rahul Gandhi tore 2013 Ordinance?

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was convicted by a Surat court on March 23 in a criminal defamation case that was registered over his “Modi surname” remarks. A day later, Gandhi, was disqualified as a member of the Lok Sabha and his Wayanad seat in Kerala was declared vacant. This was done as per a Supreme Court ruling from 2013 which ruled that “any MP, MLA or MLC who is convicted of a crime and given a minimum of 2 years’ jail loses membership of the House with immediate effect”.

However, back in 2013, when the Manmohan Singh government was in power, the then Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had brought in an Ordinance against the top court judgment. Rahul Gandhi had publicly opposed the Ordinance at a press conference, and called it a “complete nonsense”, and said that “it should be torn up and thrown out”. However, there were no visuals of him tearing the Ordinance.

Several social media users shared an image that showed Rahul Gandhi tearing a paper claiming that Gandhi was tearing up the 2013 Ordinance. It was found by fact-checkers that the viral picture was from 2012 when the former Wayanad MP had torn a piece of paper at a campaign rally, while taking a dig at the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Nobel Peace Prize for PM Modi?

In March this year, several media outlets had reported that deputy leader of the Nobel Prize committee, Asle Toje, had called Prime Minister Narendra Modi the ‘biggest contender for the Nobel Peace Prize’ and the ‘most reliable face of peace’ in the world.

Later, in an interview with news agency ANI, Toje had said, “I am not in India as Deputy leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; I am here as a Director of International peace and understanding and as a friend of India.”

“A fake news tweet was sent out and I think we should treat it as all fake news. Let’s not discuss it and let’s not give it energy or oxygen. I categorically deny that I said anything resembling what was there in the tweet,” he added.

Further, according to the official website of the Nobel Prize, neither the names of nominators nor of the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize can be divulged until 50 years have elapsed.

PM Modi reading ‘Adani’ book?

Amid Opposition parties demanding a Joint Parliamentary Probe in the Adani-Hindenburg Research controversy in the Parliament and the subsequent logjam in the Parliament as the Budget Session is underway, several social media users shared an image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi reading a book titled ‘101 ways to save Adani’.

In January, US-based short seller Hindenburg Research released a report alleging that Adani Group led by billionaire industrialist Gautam Adani was involved in “stock manipulation”, “accounting fraud” and corporate governance lapses. Following the report, the Adani Group stocks took a beating on the bourses. The Adani Group had called the allegations as “lies”, while Opposition political parties said that the meltdown in Adani Group shares is a scam that involves common people’s money as LIC and SBI have invested in them.

However, it was an edited image, and the photograph from 2014 showed PM Modi reading a book titled ‘Getting India Back on Track: An Action Agenda for Reform’. He was at the book launch event, which was also uploaded on the Prime Minister’s verified YouTube channel.

Resign Modi banner in UK after BBC India raids?

After the Income-Tax department’s survey operations on the UK-headquartered media corporation BBC’s New Delhi and Mumbai offices over three days in February, a video showing a protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the United Kingdom where a banner reading “Resign Modi” can be seen hanging on the Westminster Bridge was shared widely on social media. It claimed that the anti-Modi protest took place following the I-T survey in the BBC India offices.  

The BBC had released a controversial two-part documentary titled ‘India: The Modi Question’ which focused on PM Modi and his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. A month later, the BBC offices in Mumbai and Delhi were subjected to I-T surveys.

It was found that the banner was hung on the bridge on August 15, 2021 by a Britain-based group called South Asia Solidarity Group, way before the BBC “survey operations”. The official Twitter handle of the group had also shared photos and videos of the protest.

Disinformation around Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra

Rahul Gandhi, along with several Congress leaders, began the party’s ambitious Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on September 7, and culminated in Kashmir on January 30. The yatra, over the course of 135 days, covered 14 states and 3,800 km.

However, several photos and videos of the yatra were shared on social media with misleading claims, which were mostly peddled by Opposition parties, mainly members of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

One such video which showed a group of people, walking with banners and green flags with a crescent moon and a star, was shared to claim that Pakistan’s national flag was waved during the yatra. The video was also shared by right-wing propaganda channel Sudharshan News’ Editor-in-Chief Suresh Chavhanke on October 2, which can still be found on his Twitter timeline.

However, it was found that the flags seen in the video are of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), and was not the flag of Pakistan.

Moreover, a photo of Rahul Gandhi hugging a young girl at the Bharat Jodo Yatra was shared with the false claim that he met Amulya Leona Noronha, a student from Bengaluru who was arrested for shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogans in February 2020, in the presence of Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.

However, it was later found that the woman identified in the photo was Miva Jolly, General Secretary of the KSU for the Ernakulam district. Jolly had posted the photo on her Instagram handle saying that it was the “happiest moment” of her life. She had also posted a video about her meeting with Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra in Kerala.

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First published on: 01-04-2023 at 08:00 IST