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BOOM Research

May 2023 Report: Karnataka Polls, The Kerala Story Account For Most Disinformation

BOOM fact-checked 109 different false claims in May, in English, Hindi and Bengali.

By - Debraj Sarkar | 7 Jun 2023 12:53 PM GMT

 The assembly elections in Karnataka dominated the fake news cycle in the month of May, accounting for 21% of all the fact-checks done by BOOM that month. 

Islamophobia - the vilification of the Muslim community via manufactured false claims - emerged as the most prominent topic in our investigations, with 27% of claims pertaining to it. Last month saw a marked surge in Islamophobic claims, fueled by the Karnataka polls and the release of the film 'The Kerala Story'.

The Manipur clashes, Imran Khan's arrest and the ongoing wrestlers' protest were other salient topics that generated false claims in May. 

BOOM published a total of 109 fact checks across three languages - English, Hindi, and Bengali. Each of these fact checks reflect a unique false/misleading claim. Both Political and Communal claims are tied at the leading spot with 34% of claims pertaining to each. Scripted Content comes at the third spot with 9% and is a term that includes dramatised video, Computer Generated/video game content, and AI algorithm-based content. 

Karnataka polls

These are the trends we at BOOM observed regarding the election:

  • There was a marked surge in false claims surrounding the polls that emerged only after the declaration of results.
  • After the elections, main targets were overwhelmingly Congress and Muslims, both being targeted negatively. 
  • 43% of claims promoted demographic tension, 33% political smear, and 24% false sensationalism. 

Below are a couple of examples of claims we fact checked in connection to this topic. 


The above viral graphic, in circulation prior to declaration of poll results, purportedly showed a "poll of polls" conducted by NDTV predicting a landslide victory of Congress against BJP. Turns out, most of the data here was incorrect, and NDTV had not conducted any such poll until the day of casting. Read more about it here


A disturbing video showing cow slaughter on a BJP flag was being peddled post-election with claims of emboldened minorities in Karnataka celebrating the defeat of the incumbent party. BOOM found out that the video is of Manipur's Lilong area, where in January 2022, a cow was slaughtered on a BJP flag following the announcement of candidates ahead of polls. 

Islamophobia and love jihad

The result of Karnataka polls and the release of "The Kerala Story" contributed to a surge in Islamophobia in the month of May. In addition to claims tied to these themes, we had generic attacks on Muslims as usual. The following are trends observed last month:

  • 24% of Islamophobic claims are tied to the Karnataka polls. 
  • 5% of total claims are related to Love Jihad, with some of them being tied to "the Kerala Story". 
  • The generic attacks include sub-themes like Madrasa row (of building appropriated for religious use), child kidnapping, vandalising Hindu temples/idols, Namaz Row, and food adulteration.

 Below are a few examples of claims we addressed last month - 


A 2018 video from Maharashtra of a Muslim man threatening a police constable was viral with the false claim of minorities being emboldened in Karnataka after the defeat of BJP to do as they please. Reverse image searches of keyframes showed a different context of the video. Read about our investigation here


An old photo of youth sporting ISIS t-shirts in Tamil Nadu had been revived as coming from Kerala, amidst the ongoing vilification of the state and it's minorities following the release of "The Kerala Story". This 2014 incident has been debunked before and bears no relation to Kerala whatsoever. Read more about it here

Top targets of false claims 

Muslims were the biggest target of mis-/dis-information, with 33% of claims aimed at the community. Only 6% of these targeted them positively, while the rest vilify them. Looking at the claims, we observed an overarching Islamophobic narrative being created with false claims that  was to portray the community as a latent threat that will now grow unabated due to the defeat of BJP in the state of Karnataka.

The political opponents are frequently shown to be colluding with muslims to bring about instability and chaos to the state. Congress party had been targeted in 10% of the claims. Out of the claims targeting the party, only 9% are positive in their sentiment. Some claims even targeted both Congress and Muslims negatively.

Kerala had been targeted in 6% of the claims and all were negative in their depiction of the state. 

Type and outcome effect of false claims

We classified the claims based on the type of false information conveyed and their purported impact. 

Full View

Some general observations -

  • Compared to our report on the month of April, May has seen an 12% surge in Misleading Content.
  • 53% of Misleading Content was used to provoke demographic tension between communities. 40% of Misleading Content was used to generate smear campaigns against individuals/organisations.
  • 92% of False context was used to create sensationalist information. 

1) Misleading content  


Image to the right promotes inter-community tension by pitting the Kukis against the Meiteis, in the backdrop of the clashes in Manipur. Our investigation showed that the disturbing imagery is of an honour killing, that of Arushi Chaudhary in Delhi.

 




 In the picture to the left, Muslims and Pakistan both got framed for a heinous act, but the real context of the circumstances turned out to be far less sinister. What was being peddled as necrophilia, turned out to be a protection against grave robbing, and Pakistan was nowhere in the picture.


 

What makes the above two claims Misleading? It is the incriminating nature of the claims that make them misleading. In these cases, we look at things taken out of context for the explicit purpose of framing people/circumstances originally not part of the event(s). Read more about the stories here and here

2) False context


 In the image to the right, we have a claim that promotes sensationalist claims about the Jantar Mantar wrestlers' protest by taking an unrelated image of massive gathering. The visuals are originally of a massive gathering. 

 




 In the left image, a bus driver's negligence is being blamed for an accident in Meghalaya, but the visuals actually depict an incident in Indonesia.



 

Unlike the examples of Misleading claims, the above two images do not accuse/incriminate any identity/institution in the claims. Instead, they generate engagement around their content by sensationalising something salient/generic. The associated sentiment of False Contextualisation is positive/neutral, which is different from Misleading claims that are negative. Read more about these stories here and here.


Full View

Looking at the two highest values, we can ascertain the partisan nature of false information last month. Some general observations -

  • Muslims comprise 83% of the targets of Demographic anxiety. Congress is targeted in 15% of these claims. 
  • Smearing includes a greater diversity of targets, with Congress being the focus of 10% of the claims, followed by PM Narendra Modi (8%). 
  • False Sensationalism too boasts a diverse cast of targets, most salient of which is Imran Khan, being the focus of 8% of claims in this category. 

Since we have already dealt with claims targeting Muslims, in this section we shall cover examples of the other types, namely 1) smear campaigns and 2) fake sensationalism - 


1) Smear campaigns

 To the right, visuals of a local man assaulting a power supply employee was being shared with the false claim of poll promises of Congress playing havoc in Karnataka. BOOM found out that the two premises are not related. 





 The visuals to the left were an attempt to vilify the PM in the run-up to the Karnataka elections. By comparing a doctored image of Adolf Hitler, the post intends to compare the two leaders in their manner of interacting with children. BOOM figured out the manipulation involved and fact checked the claim. 




2) Fake sensationalism 



 Visuals on the right show an explosion in the Pentagon and several media outlets in the country fell for it. Finding no credible source of the incident, BOOM was able to assess the nature of the information, tying it to a viral deepfake. 




 Altered videos of bollywood stars supporting former Pakistan PM Imran Khan following his arrest went viral. BOOM found that the videos were fake and a different audio was overlaid into the video to make the false claim. 



Videos the most sought after medium of deception 

Full View



  • Videos were the most preferred medium of mass deception, accounting for 59% of the claims. This is followed by images (38%) and texts (3%)
  • Comparing the medium of claims with their purported impact, 78% Demographic Anxiety, 52% of Fake Sensationalism, and 45% of Smear Campaigns were spread via videos
  • 48% of Fake Sensationalism and 48% of Smear Campaigns were peddled via Images. 

Below lies the chart for plotting medium by purported impact of claims 

Full View


If you have a question about our taxonomy or any question about our data, do write it to us at debraj@boomlive.in