On July 12, a video was posted on Twitter showing a man standing with two women — both of them dressed as brides. The tweet went viral with the misleading claim that a father forcefully married his two daughters, one 20-year-old and the other, 19.
Over 2 minutes long, the video was uploaded by a Twitter user named Mohammad Tanveer, (@Iam_TanvirMts). In his bio, Tanveer calls himself a freelance journalist. The tweet has amassed nearly 4k likes and nearly 3K retweets since it was posted.
"Father is Hindu, girl is also Hindu. Now no one's feelings will be hurt," the tweet read.
It wasn't hard to find that the video was scripted. But turns out that YouTube is full of such scripted videos: Of young women marrying men much older than them. None of them mention that they are scripted, in effect giving the audience a false impression of the videos being real.
What's Even Real?
As the video clip of the "father marrying his two daughters" went viral, other creators on YouTube saw an opportunity.
A Youtube channel named Arg Graphy with over 43,000 subscribers that uploads videos related to violent crimes and politics in the country decided to discuss this particular video. In the video titled "बाप ने की अपनी दो बेटियों से शादी बेटियों ने रोकर किया बड़ा खुलासा" (Father married his two daughters daughter did a big expose) a man in a skullcap says that these type of incidents violate the sanctity of the father-daughter relationship.
After a search of related keywords on YouTube, BOOM found the complete video on a YouTube channel named Satish Singh TV. Now made private, the video is around 5 minutes long and had received more than 8 lakh views in just a week. It is obvious from the cuts and transitions in the video that the clip posted on Twitter was staged and the claims were false.
A quick search reveals that the channel with over 36,000 subscribers has posted many such videos in the recent past. One of the videos shows a 17-year-old arguing with the person behind the camera, telling him that she is in love with the 63-year-old man who she has married. The video shows the two of them wearing flower garlands. There are more.
Sample these: "लड़की ने की 63 साल की बूढ़े से शादी (girl married 63 years old ), 24 साल के लालची लड़की ने की 61 साल के बूढ़े से शादी (24-year-old greedy girl married 61 year old), 16 साल के लड़की ने किया 60 साल के बूढ़े से शादी फिर ये हुआ (16-year-old girl married 60-year-old man and then this happened)."
In all of the videos, the YouTube creator intervenes between "couples" usually with vast age differences, and begins to give them a moral lecture.
It's only in the about section of the channel that it says that the videos are only for "manoranjan", or entertainment.
No Disclaimer On Scripted Videos
This isn't the only YouTube channel with thousands of followers that post such videos. Hundreds of such staged videos based on the theme of marriages between a man and his daughter, or daughters, or between an older man and a minor girl — have garnered lakhs and lakhs of views.
While watching the full videos may explain that these are scripted, but when a clip from it goes viral on another platform with various claims, making them sound like they are real incidents. The comments on the videos show that the viewers believe that the incidents are in fact, real.
Most of these videos don't have any disclaimer or any mention of it being staged in the description.
The video that made news this week— uploaded on Twitter from the YouTube channel 'Satish Singh TV' skips the disclaimer in the video or its description.
Often, these videos are given a communal or a casteist angle.
BOOM found another YouTube channel called Shivesh Mishra Official which shares similar videos on "marriage fantasies". With 14.5 lakh subscribers, the videos of the channel are fairly popular, getting 10k views on average. Some of those videos have millions of views. The channel is also verified by YouTube.
One of the videos posted on the YouTube channel titled "हरिजन लड़की और ब्राह्मण लड़का ने भागकर किया शादी part-2" (Harijan girl and Brahman boy marry by eloping away Part-2) has 86 million views.
The video starts with the YouTuber asking a man "This is the boy who ran away after marrying a girl, is it right Shambhu?"
Later, Shivesh is heard giving Panchayat-like judgment on the conflict. He says, "Now you have only one option left, either you go to jail or accept this marriage. There is no other way round. You have to decide what you want to do. Locals and the whole society are against you."
The YouTube channel owner Shivesh Mishra, based out of Begusarai in Bihar, told BOOM that this was not a scripted one. "This was a real incident in Begusarai where an upper-caste boy had eloped with a Dalit girl. I interviewed them, recorded and uploaded the video on my YouTube channel. People liked it very much. So I started making the same kind of staged videos to get views and subscribers," the YouTuber told BOOM.
Mishra's YouTube channel had first posted a singing concert video on September 20, 2016. Thereafter, 690 videos were uploaded - many of them of staged marriages.
"I am a singer. I sing Bhojpuri, Maithili, and Hindi songs," said the YouTuber who regularly uploads videos of his songs. However, the most popular videos on the channel are that of staged "marriage conflicts".
Uploaded one year ago, one such video with 2.8 Lakhs views and title -
#घर से #भागकर #शादी करना पड़ा #महँगा~#वायरल हुआ वीडियो~ #लड़का लड़की को #झांसा देकर हुआ था #फरार
(marriage after eloping from home came with consequences- the video went viral- the boy had fled away bluffing the girl )
In this video, Shivesh talks to a 'couple' about their marriage. The video starts with the woman explaining how she was bluffed by her partner. The man defends himself by saying it was because of the financial crisis. After some arguments, Shivesh asks the man to apologise to the woman and says, "Don't worry, now I have arrived. I will give him some job in my music albums."
Nowhere in the video does it have a disclaimer of it being staged. Rather, the description of the video claims to be a real incident with hashtags #Hindu_muslim #boygirl. The two actors in the video have appeared in other marriage videos on Shivesh Kumar Official channel.
On being asked how feels about the people getting confused between real and staged videos, the YouTuber said, "I leave it to the audience to identify which one is real and which one is fake".
Some of the singer/YouTuber/staged video maker's videos have a description that reads "the video is picturized based on real events", and "do you like the acting of these artists?" The description appears in small font at the bottom of the video for a few seconds. But there are still other videos that don't have any disclaimer or description of it being staged. Some of them instead have descriptions that read, "It is real, share as much as you can."
The YouTuber said that he hires local actors and dancers to perform in the videos. The same ones who he hires to perform in his singing concerts.
BOOM has closely observed this growing phenomenon since the past year when video content creators on YouTube and Facebook make videos that are shared out of context on other platforms.
The creators claim they are for entertainment or educational purposes or for social awareness but actually, the aim is to go to viral and earn money. These videos also generate huge engagement in the form of comments, views and shares.
While on the face of it, it may be easy to tell it is staged given the bad acting and editing effects, but what happens when the acting gets better and videos get more realistic? They have the potential to cause real-world harm. BOOM has seen such videos being misused to target Muslims where they are shared with narratives that hardens harmful stereotypes about the community.
The creators evade any action from Facebook and YouTube because the disclaimer in the videos ensures that they don't violate the platform's community standards. But when the video goes viral the disclaimer gets cropped out or is somehow lost.
BOOM reached out to YouTube to understand what they are doing to tackle this problem of misinformation on the platform. A spokesperson at YouTube said that they "remain committed to protecting the YouTube community while providing room for a broad range of views". "YouTube has clear policies that outline what content is not acceptable to post and we quickly remove videos violating our Misinformation Policy. We have taken a number of steps to address misinformation including doubling down our efforts to raise authoritative information with features such as Top News, Breaking News, Fact Check and Information panel giving topical context. Moreover, over the years, we've updated our recommendations system to prevent the spread of problematic misinformation and borderline content," the spokesperson said.
The video streaming platform said that harmful content is a mere fraction of 1% of their entire content and they are working to reduce it even further. Raising authoritative information and reducing recommendations of borderline content, YouTube pointed out, is as important as removing violative content.
With inputs from Karen Rebelo