The earthquake in Turkiye and Syria was the most prominent topic of false claims in the month of February, accounting for 17.5 per cent of all our fact-checks. Following this was Islamophobia - a topic of recurring prominence - featuring in 16.5 per cent of our fact-checks.
BOOM did 97 fact-checks this month, in English, Hindi, and Bangla, each of them debunking a unique false or misleading claim.
Our analysis revealed that the majority of claims are Political in nature, accounting for 23 per cent of the data set, followed by Alarmist and Islamophobia related claims, comprising 22 per cent and 17.5 per cent of the total claims respectively. Further analyses of the claims pertaining to the above mentioned 'natures' reveal that false information closely followed real life incidents that made the rounds in traditional news circles.
Natural Disasters generate Sensationalism
A closer look at Alarmist claims revealed that the surge in their numbers was due to the catastrophic earthquakes in the past month in Syria/Turkey, and then in Tajikistan. Such claims led to 21 separate fact-checks. Nearly all the claims were sensationalist in nature, intended to use the news interest around this topic to generate traction.
A few examples are provided below -
News outlets share old photo from Ukraine as Turkiye earthquake victim
Several news outlets including IANS Live, News 18 Hindi, and ETV Bharat have recently shared a photograph of a minor boy sitting on rubble falsely linking it to the recent earthquake that struck large parts of Syria/Turkiye. BOOM spoke to photographer Zapylaieva Hanna, who confirmed that the picture was clicked as part of a 2018 photoshoot in Ukraine. Read the fact-check here.
Video of building collapse in Florida peddled as Turkiye earthquake
An old video of a multi-storied building collapsing has been shared on social media platforms falsely claiming that it shows recent horrific visuals from earthquake-hit Turkey. BOOM performed a reverse-image search on one of the many keyframes from the video and found several news articles mentioning it to be from a building collapse incident in Florida in June 2021. Read more about it here.
Islamophobic content continue to top the list
Similar to the trend last month, the divisive claims we received were limited to generic cases of communally polarising messages and posts. Below are a couple of examples of such claims -
A clipped video of West Bengal's Furfura Sharif cleric Taha Siddiqui is being shared with a false claim that he asked Muslims to wage war against Hindus. Our investigation proved that the video was clipped, and the full video shows him urging Muslims to compete with Hindus in terms of education. Read more about the story here.
A disturbing clip showing a man assaulting a minor girl in the middle of a street, has surfaced on social media with captions giving it a false communal spin and claiming that it was a Hindu who was being attacked in Chattisgarh's Raipur. BOOM inquired with the Senior Superintendent of Police, Raipur who confirmed that there is no communal angle to the incident. Furthermore, we were able to prove that both the perpetrator and the victim belong to the same community. Read about it here.
Evidently, Turkey and Muslims were the biggest targets in last month's false information ecosystem.
Type and Outcome Effects of false claims
We further classified false claims based on the type of information manipulation in use and the intended outcome of sharing them.
Last month, the most common type of deceptive information was found to be ‘Misleading Content’ - where a person/group or agenda is framed by twisting facts out of their original meaning’, accounting for 38.14 per cent of all the claims we studied. Both Islamophobic and Political claims account for 35% of all misleading content, respectively. Here are a few examples of misleading content that we encountered throughout the month -
An old photo of children sitting on the floor and studying in a rural school is being shared with the false claim that it is evidence of BJP's inaction regarding civic amenities in the state of Uttarakhand, where the party is currently in power. BOOM found that the photo is actually from 2013 and shows a rural school in Bihar. A reverse image search and subsequent checking with Reuters highlighted the original context. Read more about it here.
Here, following the BBC office Income Tax Raid, he PM of India was framed in what appears to be a public demonstration against him on Westminster Bridge. This is, in fact, an old video and is from 15 August, 2021 and the banner was dropped by a group called 'South Asian Solidarity Group'. Read more about it here.
The second type of false information was in the form of ‘False Context’ - where genuine information is taken out of context without mal-intent, accounting for 28 percent of the total fact-checks. 59.25 per cent of false-context is devoted to the devastating Turkiye/Syria earthquake, while 11.1 percent of it was regarding the recent Tajikistan earthquake. Here is an example -
A collage of two old videos is being shared on social media platforms falsely claiming that it shows recent visuals from Turkey after the country faced a major earthquake. BOOM found that the videos are from 2020 and the visuals are from an earthquake struck city in Turkey called Izmir.
Our third type of false claim, in the form of ‘Fabricated Content’ - absolutely false claim that is based on little to no genuine information, contributed to 10.30 per cent of all the claims. Here are a few examples -
A WhatsApp forward claiming that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly criticised External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar over the attacks on Christians in India is fake. BOOM, after investigating found that no comment made by the Secretary was aimed at India's External Affairs Minister. Read more about it here.
This viral WhatsApp forward asserted that following the revelations made by Hindenburg Research regarding the Adani Group, the activist short-selling firm has been banned in the USA. BOOM found that the claim is unsubstantiated and the founder of the firm's founder - Nate Anderson, also took to Twitter to clarify that the claims on social media re not true. Read more about it here.
The NEXT categorisation was regarding the Impact assessment of false claims. Going through all the false claims, we have come across three board Impact types - Demographic Anxiety, Smear Campaign, and Fake sensationalism.
The most commonly identified impact of spreading deceiving information last month was to generate ‘Fake Sensationalism’, contributing to 51.54 per cent of the total data. The second most prominent type was ‘Smear Campaign’, accounting for 30 per cent of all the claims. The third type was ‘Demographic Anxiety’, and it accounted for 19 percent of all the claims. Our analysis further revealed that claims targeting Muslims closely followed real incidents where the community was framed by taking things out of context (Misleading claims). A few examples of genuine incidents given a communal flair include Taha Siddiqui public speech, lawyer Jugran Chauhan murder etc.
Having addressed Islamophobic claims above, here are a few examples pertaining to the first two types of Impact Assessments -
Fake Sensationalism - A video of a man winning a wrestling match is circulating on social media with captions misidentifying him as Madhya Pradesh's self-styled godman Dhirendra Shastri of Bageshwar Dham. Similar to claims targeting the earthquake of Turkey, the intent is to create sensationalism surrounding the godman. BOOM, using reverse image search, found out that the video is at least two years old and shows Pakistani wrestler Ghulam Hussain Pathan defeating another wrestler in a match. Read about the fact check here.
Smear Campaign - A video went viral on social media with the claim that an AAP MLA got beat up by angry locals in Punjab, where the party is in power. BOOM, investigating the watermark of the shared video and the Gurumukhi language investigated the original content and found that it is, in fact, a dramatised video bearing no bearing on any real person. The initial claim turned out to be an attempt to smear the image of AAP in the eyes of the public. Read about it here.
Videos still the most sought after medium of deception
Videos are the most preferred medium of spreading false information, accounting for 54 percent of all deceptive content last month. This is followed by Images (36.12 percent) and Texts (10.31 percent). Further analysis shows that last month, 61 percent of all demographic anxiety was conveyed via Videos. On the other hand, Fake sensationalism was the most prominent impact of both image-based and video-based false content.
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