Kashmir unrest: Unchecked circulation of provocative fake news may derail chances of peace

The Kashmir Valley may be staring at another tumultuous summer if rumors mongers on social and mainstream media are not prevented from circulating fictitious and provocative fake news. In several of these instances, in fact, the "news" is even supplemented with quotes from officials.

Fake news about Sunday's encounter proliferated on social media. Firstpost/Sameer Yasir

Fake news about Sunday's encounter proliferated on social media. Firstpost/Sameer Yasir

Media scholars inside and outside the Valley say this is an alarming situation, and given the unchecked proliferation of fake news in a place as sensitive as Kashmir, even small rumours can potentially snowball into major controversies and even claim lives.

"Since the spread of internet and social media usage in Kashmir, many people have assumed the role of journalists. They post fake news on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook without caring about the repercussions of their action. Many others take social media posts at face value and distribute it as gospel," said Mohammad Waseem, a Kashmiri media scholar.

For example, during a shootout at Hafoo Nazneenpora village in South Kashmir's Tral last week — the hometown of slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani — rumours circulated on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. These said the internet has been disconnected in South Kashmir; they said curfew is imposed in Tral; that 50,000-1,00,000 are marching towards the encounter site; they claimed three Pakistani militants have been killed; that Sabzar Ahmad Bhat was trapped in the house; that militants carried a heavy cache of arms with them — they were all untrue.

"When I heard about the encounter, I logged on to my Twitter feed to check for news. I was surprised to see dozens of bogus news items making the rounds. I read about eight militants being trapped in the area and internet being snapped. They were all false," said Zahid Ali, a resident of Tral, who lives a few hundred metres from Nazneedpora village.

SJM Gilani, inspector general of police, Kashmir, said reports of the imposition of curfew in South Kashmir are baseless. "Such reports are baseless and could be the handiwork of rumor mongers. People must not pay any attention to rumors," Gilani told a news agency.

A press release issued by Jammu and Kashmir police on Sunday evening said only one AK-47 rifle was found with the militant whose body was recovered. When the last police handout was issued to the press, the body and weapon of another militant was yet to be recovered. "The operation is almost over, as security forces are clearing out the debris. One AK-47 has been recovered so far," said SP Vaid, director general of police.

Some news agencies even went on to say the reason behind the elongation of the encounter was the militants carrying heavy arms. Again, the reality is that just one AK-47 was recovered from the site when the last reports came in.

Two militants and one policeman were killed in Nazneenpora on Sunday. Around 20 locals were injuries in clashes. During the encounter, an army major, two soldiers, two Jammu and Kashmir police officers, and one CRPF man sustained injuries.

A New Delhi-based English news channel jumped the gun and announced the killing of three Pakistani militants in Tral on Saturday. The channel even tweeted photos of the mutilated bodies of three militants, but later deleted these tweets.

"You cannot expect a news channel of repute to tweet fake photos about an encounter. In the rat race of breaking news, even news channels with established networks fall for fake news on social media," said Arif Ahmad, a media scholar based in Kashmir, adding that he'd like to see cops initiate action against the channel. "I didn't see this channel tweet out a corrigendum. They just deleted their tweets. Police should initiate action against them."

In April 2016, the district magistrate of Kupwara had issued an order asking for registration of WhatsApp groups operating out of the district. This was to curb the dissemination of fake news. Government employees were also discouraged from being part of any WhatsApp group, and were threatened of strict action if they were caught. SPs, SSPs and tehsildars of the district were given the responsibility of monitoring the WhatsApp groups and to report any activity that calls for legal action. However, the move drew flak from people and online activists.

During the encounter in Tral, a WhatsApp voice message appealed to people of adjoining villages to come out of their homes at night and help militants escape. On Sunday, the police said they have arrested a youth from South Kashmir's Kulgam district for allegedly spreading fake news on social media.

"Police have started action against people spreading fake news on social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. These people are trying to vitiate peace and create disturbance in the state," a police official was quoted by a local newspaper as saying.

Updated Date: Mar 06, 2017 16:30 PM

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