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Published On: Mon, Sep 28th, 2020

Fake News on Telegram is Fueling Hate in India

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fake NewsNEW DELHI : While Facebook, Whats App and Twitter have been under the scanner for their inability to curb this menace which has led to a string of violent activities including riots and lynchings, misinformation on Telegram is a bigger challenge often discussed in tech circles.
With over 400 million global subscribers, Telegram was introduced and is widely regarded as a competitor to WhatsApp. It can host up to 2,00,000 people in a private group as compared to 256 people allowed by WhatsApp and there are several public channels which can be accessed by anyone and everyone using the app.
Perceived as one of the safest communication channels, Telegram prevents data breach to a great extent, but these features namely — high broadcast potential, robust security apparatus and unchecked public groups — make it extremely difficult to monitor the flow of mis/disinformation and hate speech on the platform.
We spoke to several experts who underlined the need to protect the privacy of the user and simultaneously introduce features which can check the spread of hate and fake news.

For the purpose of the story, this reporter joined a few public Telegram groups (random selection) and analysed the content which was being shared. Here’s what I learnt.
Hate Speech, Polarisation & Disinformation: What’s Happening Inside Telegram Groups in India?
“हिंदू एकता जिंदाबाद” (Long Live Hindu Unity) is a public group which had over 22,000 members at the time of filing this report. We noticed that members in this group frequently engaged with Islamophobic, anti-minority and abusive content and used misleading information to back their claims.

Sample this conversation among three people – called ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ through the course of this story – illustrated in the screenshot below. After ‘A’ abuses Muslims, ‘B’ points out that the “Sanatan dharma does not allow them to abuse another religion”. Adding to what ‘A’ said, person ‘C’ claims that “Seculars are traitors and should be considered worst than Muslims”.
The matter has now become ‘A’ and ‘C’ vs ‘B’. Responding to ‘C’, person ‘B’ says that “Muslims and Christians might’ve done horrible things to Hindus, but if Hindus reciprocate in the same language, they have no right to call themselves followers of Lord Ram.”Clearly frustrated with what ‘B’ is saying, ‘A’ ends up calling ‘B’ a “Katua”, an often-used derogatory term for Muslims.
These vile and hateful messages are often accompanied by or result from misleading or fake information targeting the minority communities. In this case, the bone of contention was the ‘UPSC Jihad’ episode telecasted on Sudarshan News on 11 September.
The bulletin helmed by channel’s editor in chief Suresh Chavhanke talked about how the public service exam was structured and, according to him, is functioning in a way that favoured the Muslim community. Screenshots of some false claims made by Chavhanke during the episode were then circulated on this group. These claims have already been debunked by The Quint.
This is just one of the many instances where hate speech coupled with disinformation was being circulated on this group without any verification. We spoke with senior journalist Maya Mirchandani who is currently a Senior Fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. She says that disinformation in itself is not a new problem but the need of the hour is to identify the enemy. Mirchandani is leading a research on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism’ (P/CVE), De-radicalization and Hate Speech at ORF.

“The problem today is the speed at which technology is able to amplify rumours. The ability to do so, unchecked, is the real problem. We as consumers of technology need an education – on its obstacles and propensity for abuse.”
Maya Mirchandani, Journalist & Senior Fellow at ORF
We analysed several other groups and were able to sort the disinformation being shared on Telegram into three broad categories: Communal disinformation targeting minorities.
Disinformation around national security and situation along the India-China border.
Darkweb activities including pirated content, fake sim cards and breached data. As is evident from the example illustrated above, fake news targeting the minority communities exists in abundance on Telegram. ‘हिंदू राष्ट्रवादी’ (Hindu Nationalist), ‘BHARATIYA HINDU PARIVAR’ and ‘Hindu’ are among many other such groups where hateful and misleading content is shared on a regular basis. This includes fake news stories which have already been debunked by various fact-checkers.

For example, a viral image claiming that an RSS worker was beaten up in Kerala for attending a Muslim wedding, made its way through to one of these groups. In reality, the man seen in the images is actor and content creator Arjun Ratan and the scene is from a video ‘Smile Please’ uploaded on a digital platform called Karikku. This claim was also debunked by multiple fact-checkers including The Quint’s WebQoof team.
(The Quint).

 

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