Battling coronavirus outbreak, Kashmir finds itself tackling another contagion in the form of fake news
The Kashmir Valley has seen fake news spread on an unprecedented scale with a broad range of mis/disinformation circulating on social networks
Srinagar: Last month, mosques blared calls for prayer across Kashmir in the night. That came after videos had been circulating on social networking sites predicting the end of the world and the spread of the coronavirus as one of the signs of doomsday. This wasn't the first time people had heeded false rumours in Kashmir. The Valley has seen fake news spread at an unprecedented scale with a broad range of mis/disinformation circulating on social networks.
From posts claiming that hotels will remain shut till October to those claiming that authorities are ordering the restoration of 4G internet services, fake news has worsened the strain being felt by people due to the lockdown.
With no independent means to check the veracity of most of the posts that are circulated on Whatsapp groups, Twitter and Facebook, fake orders — some of which are attributed to the government — have also brought to the fore the trust deficit between locals and the authorities. After an order about 4G mobile internet services being restored went viral on social networking sites, the government issued a clarification that it was fake. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, "If you are going to restore our 4G then please just go ahead & do it. Stop messing with our heads with these 'orders', 'fake orders' & 'denials'. Why should we be made to feel like beggars for restoration of basic services the rest of the nation take for granted?"
Days later, the police registered a case after what it said was a fake order by the Supreme Court asking the government to restore high-speed mobile internet services. As it stands, the 4G ban has not been lifted since the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir's special status on 5 August last year.
"It is not just the order of restoration of 4G internet services that was fake. There were several other orders like those claiming schools were set to be closed for a long time that are being spread on social networking sites," said GN Var, head of the private school association in Kashmir, who had filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking the restoration of 4G services.
The authorities have rebutted several orders including those pertaining to the purported cancellation of university classes in the Union Territory till June, prohibitory orders on the consumption of meat and chicken, closure of hotels till 15 October, imposition of financial emergency to order salary cuts as well as the phase-wise lockdown announced by the World Health Organisation (WHO) till September. Since 3 April, when the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) set up a fact-checking portal to fight fake news around the coronavirus, it has received 76 complaints of which 65 were resolved, said Rakesh Dubey, deputy director of information.
"After people share the so-called order on the fact-checking website, we get it verified through our district-level officers as well as the Press Information Bureau (PIB), before the updates are posted on the website," he said. In a recent post, the DIPR said that there is no order from the government that it would give permission for marriages with limited attendance.
Senior leader of the Awami Action Committee (AAC), Syed Rehman Shams, said that many of the clerics also objected earlier to their call asking for avoiding the prayers in the mosques. "There are a lot of messages which have been circulating on WhatsApp groups that are fake. Since the government has the machinery at its disposal, it needs to act to combat the spread of the fake news," he added.
Earlier, government spokesperson and Principal Secretary, Rohit Kansal, said that some people had created a fake account in his name and had circulated information that the 4G services would be restored. "I am told that some Twitter handles impersonating my account are carrying some fake news regarding internet. I have not made any statement and the fake handles have been reported for action," he tweeted.
Advocate Waseem Ahmad Shah, of Arigam Pulwama, said that the "fake news adds to our anxiety and stress". He continued, "People are already facing a lockdown. In addition, fake news has made us jittery. Last month, people thronged mosques in our village and there were calls for prayer made from different places. The fake news only serves to exacerbate our anxieties," he said.
Dubey said that the number of fake news posts was higher when the lockdown was total. "We still continue to receive four or five fake news posts each day," he said.
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