“Disinformation is worse than misinformation,
Disinformation is purposeful misinformation”.
The narrow mishandling of factual information is one dimension where democracy starts turning into rot. The current episode surfacing mainly the fake episodes of violence in West Bengal by a set of politically inclined social media pages, specifically on Instagram, stands as a perfect example. This fake narrative isn’t only a political disturbance but rather a decaying process of democracy that has been taking place underneath the years of misinformation and propaganda.
On the morning of 4 May, Twitter permanently suspended the account of Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut, who was a regular peddler of fake news on the platform. By the afternoon of the same day, Instagram posts surfaced by Tatva India, Yuvadope and Samwaad, among others. They were successful enough in penetrating fake propaganda among the millennial social media users.
On a similar pretext on which Ranaut’s account was supposedly suspended, i.e. post-poll violence in Bengal and trying the best to give it a politically communal colour, they too tried to propagate a similar narrative. However, most of it proved to be fake or reported by unreliable and suppositious handles who relentlessly promote one political set and are directed towards criticizing others (opposition).
In pursuing the fake narrative, the handles extensively used doctored posts and evidence of the past to make the environment in Bengal look like a communal disturbance. Not only did using this fake narrative sufficed their purpose, but they made it appear like it was all directed towards the BJP, the principal opposition in the state.
Other political opposition in West Bengal — The Congress, CPI (M) and the Indian Secular Front also allege the death of their men and local media reported even TMC cadres were killed. But these handles made it appear that it was all a target furnace only for the BJP and rather made it look like anti-Hindu violence.
If we analyse the user base of these handles, they clearly appear to be hate-mongering. In their account, they very bluntly direct communal hatred. The Instagram bio of Yuvadope previously mentioned it to be a “Cauliflower Farmer” and even presently mentions it in very sarcastic humour.
Cauliflower farming refers to nothing but the genocide that took place in Bhagalpur (Bihar), 27 October 1989. The slaughtered Muslim bodies were buried by the killers and camouflaged with cauliflower and cabbage saplings. The handle demands action for violence by gloating a genocide, which is just ironic.
These handles are well connected with one another too, where Yuvadope follows Samwaad India and the latter invites the founder of Tatva India for a talk on journalism. Very interestingly, the concerned has no experience of the same and is identified as nothing apart from running the Tatva India and masquerading as a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, their manipulation of social media can someday definitely evolve them into prime-time faces. If not that, then definitely an expert panellist because “fake news is the new normal in the field of media”.
These pages push on one significant question that something is seriously wrong with social media. Social media companies have failed in policing such vile content on the internet. The harm these pages are causing is that they are influencing the country’s political discourse without any fact-findings, which result in democratic opinions. It is significant for a country like India, where social media platforms enjoy up to 80 crore unique users.
Counter-narratives are important for every support base but basing them on a set of prescribed agendas is dangerous. In a case like this, it plants not only hatred but also makes way for another version of violence. This sort of garbage being peddled needs to be challenged and it’s no big deal that such algorithms would take social media to the process of political segregation like the electronic and digital media.
Social media needs to be checked before turning into a conspiracy tool and it highlights the urgent requirement for new rules for how these platforms should operate. A country like Uganda banned social media ahead of Presidential elections and it was due to the political fidget social media was playing.
In India, we need such actions more than the rest of the world and the episode in Bengal answers why. The culmination of this saga needs to be checked before we let other bits burn like Telinipara and Basirhat in West Bengal, where effortlessly social media is inclined to reassert disturbance.