Muslims were the most targeted religious group of false claims last year, followed by Hindus, according to our 2022 annual report, targeted by 14 per cent and 4 per cent of all the claims we debunked last year, respectively. Most of these claims were found to be shared with the intent of spreading demographic anxiety and furthering polarisation among India's biggest religious groups.
Among the political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (and its leaders) turned out to be the most frequent target of false claims(16 per cent of the claims), followed by the Congress (7 per cent) and AAP (5.4 per cent).
BOOM published 1135 fact-checks in 2022, in English, Hindi and Bangla, between January 2 and December 30. Each of these fact-check dealt with a unique false claim.
We analysed each of these claims and looked for themes, topics, targets, sentiments behind targetting (positive, negative or neutral), along with the method of deception used to spread them.
Political and Communal Claims Dominated The Year
With over 481 claims revolving around politics, political falsities were the most dominant area of information manipulation we spotted in 2022, accounting for over 42 per cent of all our fact-checks.
The prevalence of political claims last year is owed to a series of high profile assembly elections, in states like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Manipur, some of which saw regime changes, while others saw incumbents return to power.
Communal claims - false and misleading claims directed at religious communities - were the second most dominant area of information manipulation last year, with 247 such claims being debunked by us, accounting for over 21 per cent of our fact-checks.
Further analysis of these claims found that a series of events gave rise to communal claims, notedly Karnataka's Hijab ban, Nupur Sharma's Anti-Prophet remarks, and the use of scripted and dramatised videos to make false communal claims (more on this under our analysis of themes and topics).
Other prominent areas of information manipulation were international (10 per cent), alarmist content (false or misleading content aimed at provoking readers accounting for 8.6 per cent of our fact-checks), and related to the entertainment industry (4.3 per cent).
BJP And Muslims Most Targeted Entities
Using our annual fact-check database, we examined the claims for each fact-check and identified the entity, individual or issue being targeted through information manipulation.
On several occasions, we spotted large groups being targeted, along with individual targets who are part of the larger groups. We assigned the individual targets as 'sub-targets', to do individual level comparison.
For each of these targets and sub-targets, we also identified the sentiments behind sharing manipulated information, and assigned three different values - negative, neutral and positive.
Our analysis found that the Bharatiya Janata Party was the most frequent target of 2022, with 176 fact-checks written on false claims targeting the ruling party. 117 of these fact-checks dealt with negative targeting of the party, while 58 of them targeted the party positively.
The second in the list was the Muslim community, targeted by 164 false or misleading claims. 156 of these claims were directed at the religious group in a negative manner, while eight claims targeted them positively.
The Indian National Congress was third in the list, with 81 such claims targeting them. 62 of these claims framed the party in a negative way, while 19 of them were directed positively. Sharing the third place with the Congress were miscellaneous targets, with 81 claims targeting a variety of topics that could clubbed with any known target.
The Aam Aadmi Party was the fourth most targeted entity, with 63 claims targeting the party. 47 of them were negatively targeted, while 15 were positive.
The Hindu community came fifth in the list, with 46 claims targeting India's largest religious group.
Other prominent targets were the Indian Central government (42 claims), Bollywood (42 claims), Pakistan (27 claims) and Samajwadi Party (22 claims).
Which Politicians Were Targeted The Most?
With a number of assembly elections taking place, several political leaders from across parties were targeted by false and misleading claims - some positively, and some negatively.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi was found to be the most targeted political leader, featuring as target of 67 claims. While 36 of them targeted him negatively, 30 claims framed him in a positive manner. Modi was also found to be the political leader with the highest number of positive claims targeting him.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was the second most targeted political leader with 43 claims targeting him. While 33 of them were negative, only 10 of them showed him in positive light.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath came third in the list, being a target of 20 false claims (most of these claims appeared around the UP assembly elections). 11 of these claims showed him positively, while 9 of them were targeted negatively.
Other political leaders to be targeted frequently were Arvind Kejriwal (16), Bhagwant Mann (12), Akhilesh Yadav (8), Nupur Sharma (7), Smriti Irani (6), Amit Shah (6) and Hardik Patel (5).
While most of these political leaders were targeted mostly negatively, former BJP leader Nupur Sharma was an outlier - six out of the seven claims targeting her (which went viral during the controversy around her remarks on the Prophet) portrayed her positively.
How Were Muslims and Hindus Targeted?
Muslims and Hindus featured in our database as the two most prominent targets among India's religious and caste groups, featured in 164 and 46 claims, respectively.
Dalits, Christians and Parsis were also in the list of targets, featured in 2, 1 and 1 claims, respectively.
With Muslims and Hindus being targeted in over 200 claims together, we decided to look at these claims more closely to see how these two communities were targeted in the claims we fact-checked.
We checked for correlations between the type of false claim, against the target (Muslims and Hindus).
Both the religious groups were targeted overwhelmingly my misleading content - claims which used genuine information in misleading manner to frame these groups.
77 per cent of the claims targeting Muslims and 67 per cent of the claims targeting Hindus were misleading.
Hindus were also targeted by claims which shared genuine information (text, image or video) out of context, accounting for 13 per cent of the claims targeting them. On the other hand, only 1 per cent of the claims targeting Muslims fell under 'false context'.
Muslims were also repeatedly found to be targeted with fabricated content - claims where were entirely fabricated with no factual basis, accounting for 12 per cent of the claims targeting them. Comparatively, only 6.5 per cent of the claims targeting Hindus were fabricated.
We also looked at the correlation between the purpose or intent of manipulating information, and the targeting of Muslims and Hindus.
Our analysis revealed that both the groups were overwhelmingly targeted with false claims with the intent of creating demographic anxiety, mostly against each other.
Around 89 per cent and 67 per cent of the claims targeting Muslims and Hindus were of this nature, respectively.
Hindus were also targeted prominently with claims aimed at sensationalism, accounting for 28 per cent of all the claims targeting them. Comparatively, less than 5 per cent of the claims targeting Muslims were sensational.
How Were BJP, Congress And AAP Targeted
With elections in multiple states throughout the year, the three parties to get the most media attention were the BJP, Congress and AAP, with each party succeeding in forming a state government (BJP in UP, Gujarat, Manipur and HP; Congress in Uttarakhand; AAP in Punjab).
These three parties were also the most targeted by manipulated information, with over 28 per cent of all the claims targeting them. We took at correlations between claims targeting these three national parties, and the type and purpose of false claims.
Misleading content was the most prevalent type of false claim found to target BJP, Congress and AAP - accounting for 40 per cent, 30 per cent, 33 per cent of all the claims targeting them, respectively.
Another prominent type of false claim targeting the three parties was 'manipulated content' - manipulating or doctoring genuine content. Around 20 per cent, 30 per cent and 27 per cent of all the claims targeting the BJP, Congress and AAP, respectively, used manipulated content.
Most of the manipulated information targeting the three parties were found to be shared with the purpose of smear against them, respectively. Such claims, under the purpose of 'smear campaign', accounted for 60 per cent, 67 per cent and 68 per cent of the claims targeting the BJP, Congress, and AAP, respectively.
False claims shared with the purpose of sensationalising issues also featured prominent among the claims targeting these parties. They accounted for 34 per cent, 26 per cent and 24 percent of all the claims targeting the BJP, Congress and AAP, respectively.
Islamophobic claims were rampant in 2022
We also looked at overarching themes or topics, along with sub-topics, addressed by the 1136 false claims debunked by BOOM in 2022.
Islamophobia was found to be the most dominant theme among all the false claims debunked by us last year - we did 216 fact-checks on Islamophobic claims, accounting for almost 19 per cent of all our fact-checks.
A further analysis of the Islamophobic claims revealed some sub-topics which were repeatedly addressed while making such claims.
The most prevalent sub-topic of Islamophobic claims revolved around the controversial anti-Prophet remarks made by former BJP leader Nupur Sharma. 21 such claims were debunked by us last year.
Another prominent sub-topic of such claims were made around the Hijab ban in schools in Karnataka, which was addressed in 18 false claims we debunked.
The Love Jihad conspiracy theory was yet another hot topic for Islamophobic claims last year, appearing in 15 of our fact-checks.
Elections and Smear Campaigns
Yet another prominent theme or false claims were generic 'smear campaigns' directed at various political leaders throughout the year, appearing in 87 fact-checks done by BOOM last year. These claims were not found to be directly linked to any specific state election.
State elections - particularly in UP and Gujarat - were also favourite topics for information manipulators.
False claims around elections in UP appeared in 82 of our fact-checks, while false claims around Gujarat assembly elections appeared in 47 of them.
When Mainstream Media Erred
BOOM did 76 unique fact-checks on misreporting or false reporting by news channels, websites and wire agencies between January 1 to December 31, 2022, marking a considerable rise from the past two years.
This number more than doubled since 2021, when we fact-checked the media 27 times, while in 2020 - the year of the pandemic and the 'infodemic' - the number of fact-checks on the mainstream media stood at 40.
Read our year-end report on misreporting by the media to know more.
The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which began in February, was also a prominent topic of information manipulation, especially in the first half of the year.
The media frenzy around the conflict led to several mainstream media outlets misreporting on the war. The most common type of falsities around such claims was the sharing of unrelated videos of conflict, falsely linking it to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
This also included clips of war video games being shared as real war footage.
Scripted Videos, Boycott Bollywood and FIFA World Cup
We also spotted some frequently repeated themes in our fact-check database, that strongly reflected social media trends and the news cycle.
One was the widespread use of scripted or dramatised videos being shared as real. False claims made with the help of such scripted videos appeared in 26 of our fact-checks from last year.
Such claims were being shared in the backdrop of a rising trend of scripted videos flooding the internet. Earlier this year, BOOM investigated the virality of scripted videos showing young woman marrying their fathers, or other older men.
Our investigation revealed that the provocative nature of these videos led to their virality, pushing creators to resort to such content to get more views.
#BoycottBollywood was yet another prominent trend this year, with calls to boycott a number of films that released in 2022. This was reflected in the fake news cycle as well - BOOM identified 26 false claims targeting members of the Bollywood film industry, while calling for boycotts of their films.
Finally, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which kicked off in December, attracted a considerable number of false claims in just over a month. In November and December, BOOM fact-checked 21 false claims linked to the international sporting event.
Fake News Makers Influenced By The News Cycle
We further did a longitudinal analysis of the top 10 themes of the year, to see how they performed every month throughout the year.
Islamophobic claims were found to peak in April, with the months of February and October seeing an upward trend
False claims related to UP elections peaked in February, while such claims linked to Gujarat elections peaked in October, November and December. The rise in fake news linked to these elections coincided with the election dates in each state.
Smear campaigns were found to be spread throughout the year, peaking in the months of May and July.
False claims related to the Russia-Ukraine war peaked in February and March, and appeared sparsely till June.
False claims calling for the boycott of the Bollywood industry peaked in the month of August, while such claims linked to the FIFA World Cup appeared in the months of November and December.
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