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BOOM Research

Ram Mandir Inauguration Most Popular Topic of Misinformation in January

Of the 98 fact-checks that were published in January, majority of false claims were related to the Ram Mandir inauguration and the Maldives-India row

By - Nidhi Jacob | 20 Feb 2024 8:20 AM GMT

In January, BOOM published 98 fact-checks in English, Hindi and Bangla. Of these, majority of the claims were about the Ram Mandir inauguration in Ayodhya with 17 fact-checks. The Maldives government and its citizens were the next targets with 10 fact-checks, followed by the Muslim community with 8, among others.

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36 of 98 fact-checks were centered around religious topics, primarily focusing on the opening ceremony of the Ram Mandir. Following this, there were 16 fact-checks related to international events, mainly concerning the Maldives-India row. Additionally, 12 fact-checks were related to Indian politics.

Further, 24 out of 98 fact-checks involved claims shared by verified accounts on social media. Claims in 27 fact-checks were based on old and unrelated videos. Additionally, 8 out of all fact-checks involved Artificial Intelligence generated images, audios and videos.  

Theme Assessment

Ram Mandir Inauguration in Ayodhya

The Ram temple in Ayodhya was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 22, 2024. The inauguration ceremony comes decades after the legal dispute over the land after the Babri Masjid was demolished by a violent mob belonging to the Vishva Hindu Parishad and other organisations, in December 1992. The aftermath of the demolition resulted in widespread riots across the country, leading to several deaths.

Leading up to the inauguration, BOOM fact-checked several false claims starting as early as November, and these claims intensified as the inauguration date drew closer. In January, we published 36 fact-checks related to the inauguration of the Ram Mandir. According to our analysis, 46% of the false claims in the 36 fact-checks were shared with a neutral sentiment, 38% with a positive sentiment, and 16.2% with a negative sentiment. Furthermore, the intent behind all 36 fact-checks was found to be sensationalist. Over one third of the fact-checks involved claims with unrelated old videos falsely presented as incidents related to the Ram Mandir.

Other temples and processions across India were passed off as videos and images of the Ram temple. For instance, a viral video with the view of the Kashi Vishwanath temple was falsely shared as the view of the Ayodhya Ram temple. BOOM spoke to the Vishwanath temple official who confirmed that it was a view from the Vishwanath temple itself.

Claims with positive sentiments mainly consisted of praise and wishes for the Ram temple from political leaders of different countries. Several posts claiming that Israel declared a public holiday in honour of the inauguration went viral on social media. We did not find credible news reports or announcements from official sources regarding this. Additionally, we spoke to an Israeli fact-checker who confirmed that there were no news reports about a public holiday in Israel on January 22.

Similarly, a mistranslated video of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni congratulating Indian Hindus for the consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh went viral. BOOM found that the claims were false and an accurate translation of the video showed Meloni thanking people for wishing her on her birthday.

Further, there were claims stating that the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya was being constructed 3 kilometres away from the original location of the Babri Masjid. BOOM’s historical view of the satellite imagery of the location where the new Ram Janmabhoomi Temple was being constructed closely matched the site of the Babri Masjid. This confirmed that the temple had been constructed on the exact spot where the Babri Masjid stood. Additionally, BOOM also spoke to a local resident and reporters who had visited the temple area for further information. They also dismissed the claims as false.

BOOM also verified false claims related to violent communal clashes in Mumbai’s Mira Road that broke out during the eve of the inauguration. BOOM fact-checked three stories related to the communal clashes. All claims in the three fact-checks were based on old videos. For instance, an old video of police detaining several youths in Hyderabad was falsely shared claiming that the police arrested those responsible for communal clashes in Mira Road. However, this was false. BOOM found that the video was from August 2022, when the Hyderabad police arrested several people for protesting against the release of BJP MLA T Raja Singh who was arrested for his offensive remarks against Prophet Mohammed.

Maldives-India Row

On January 7, 2024, the Maldives government reportedly suspended three ministers for making derogatory remarks about PM Modi and Indians. The three ministers had criticised Modi for his post on X over his visit to Lakshadweep, saying that it was an attempt to project it as an alternative tourist destination for Indians, instead of going to the Maldives. The row between both the countries led to a flurry of misinformation online.

BOOM published 12 fact-checks related to the row. Of these, 8 had claims that had negative sentiments against the Maldives government and its citizens. Majority of the claims portrayed Maldives as an unsafe destination especially for women while some were smear campaigns against the the President Mohammed Muizzu.

For example, a fake screenshot purporting to show Muizzu apologising to Indians "with folded hands" for his ministers' remarks on PM Modi went viral online. BOOM found that the screenshot was fabricated. This claim was shared by Rishi Bagree, who has been previously fact-checked for several false and misleading claims. BOOM scanned Muizzu's official X account and the cached version of the page but do not find any such post on his page. 

Similarly, a viral video of people fighting in the Maldives parliament claimed that Muizzu was beaten up in the parliament during the altercation. Besides, some claims also linked the economic challenges of Maldives to their hate of Hindus, suggesting it as one of the main reasons for the alleged assault on the president.

However, BOOM found that the fight in the parliament involved ministers of the ruling party and opposition party members with Muizzu having no part in it.

Regarding false claims spread with a positive sentiment, Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh and Union Minister of Earth Sciences Kiren Rijiju shared a set of photos from Maldives and French Polynesia, falsely claiming that they were from Lakshadweep. Similarly we had debunked the photos shared by former cricketer Virender Sehwag which purported to depict Lakshadweep but were actually from Thailand and Polynesia.

Medium of deception

75% of the 98 fact-checks were shared via videos followed by images (14.6%) and text (10.4%).

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Nearly 29% of Religious claims, 11.34% of claims around international political events and 9.28% of claims on Indian politics were peddled via videos. 

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