From West Bengal Polls To Olympics: Top Fake News Of 2021

BOOM lists out how fake news in 2021 ranged from messages about household cures for COVID-19, posts about Afghanistan and tweets about the Olympics.

The year of 2021 witnessed major news events that directly had an impact on the fake news and misinformation cycle - West Bengal Assembly polls, the raging second wave of COVID-19 and India's performance in the Olympics. International headlines including the Taliban militia's takeover of Afghanistan, communal violence in Bangladesh and the conflict between Israel and Palestine also had an impact on the fake and misleading news being shared about it in India.

BOOM analysed the fact checks done by us and lists 12 of the fake narratives that went viral around big news events of 2021.

West Bengal Polls

Touted to be the biggest political event of 2021, West Bengal went to polls in eight phases between March 27 to April 29. BOOM found fake news started trickling in from the early days of the campaign from old images and videos being shared as recent. The fake news cycle of post poll violence in Bengal turned murkier, with photo of a rape victim shared with a political narrative and doctored videos falsely shared as violent victory celebrations by the winning Trinamool Congress (TMC)

Here's listing the top fact checks from Bengal polls that were viral.

1. BJP MP Locket Chatterjee's car window broken from inside during elections?

During the fourth phase of polls in Bengal's Hooghly, a video of Bharatiya Janata Party MP Locket Chatterjee's car being attacked allegedly by angry locals near a polling booth surfaced. Viral posts claimed that the car window was broken by someone seated inside the car and not from outside.

BOOM's fact check found that a stone was hurled at the car window from outside, which led to the shattering unlike what the fake posts claimed.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

2. Doctored video viral as TMC's victory celebrations

Soon after the election results on May 3, 2021, an old clip of people dancing with weapons was doctored by adding the TMC slogan 'Khela Hobe' and shared to claim that it showed the celebrations by winning TMC members. The same video was amplified by BJP leaders and functionaries.

We found that the video was present online from 2020 and the audio had been overlaid to make the false claim.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

The Second Wave of COVID-19

India witnessed a devastating second wave of COVID-19 in April and May, after religious and political gatherings fueled an alarming number of cases. Lack of hospital beds and oxygen, mass anxiety fanned by a wave of misinformation, which came up with rumoured medicines to treat the second wave, created more panic.

3. Homeopathic medicine a substitute for oxygen?

During the peak of the second wave amidst desperate pleas of oxygen and concentrators, social media posts claimed that a homeopathic medicine Aspidosperma Q 20, could act as a subsitute for oxygen requited by COVID-19 patients. The posts were misleading as doctors we spoke to said that though the medicine improved oxygen intake for other diseases, it was not meant to be a substitute for oxygen.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

4. Inhaling camphor and ajwain to increase oxygen levels

During the second wave, old hacks and home remedies claiming to increase oxygen levels went viral on WhatsApp. One among them was the inhalation of camphor, cloves and carrom seeds.

Similar to all the other remedies, the mixture of camphor and ajwain seeds wrapped in a handkerchief did not have any scientific evidence backing this claim. BOOM spoke to a chest specialist who stated that the best solution was to keep an oximeter and approach medical professionals to avoid the debilitating side effects of ignoring the decrease in oxygen levels.

Read BOOM's fact check here

The Israel and Palestine Conflict, 2021

Israel's forcible eviction of Palestinians from the disputed area of Sheikh Jarrah and its raid of the Al-Aqsa mosque on May 10, 2021 led to clashes between the two groups and also a spur of misinformation on social media.

5. Pro-Palestinian protest in Qatar falsely shared as Kerala

A clip from a pro-Palestinian protest in Doha, Qatar on May 15, 2021, showing protesters shouting slogans in Malayalam surfaced with the false claim that it was from Wayanad, Kerala. In the video, protesters were seen sloganeering in Malayalam and holding placards reading 'Free Palestine', and 'RIP lsrael'.

BOOM found that the viral clip is from Doha, Qatar from a pro-Palestinian protest.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

6. Video of Palestinians applying make up and faking injuries?

An old video resurfaced on Facebook with claims that it showed Palestinians using makeup to fake injuries caused by Israeli attacks. The video was originally a news report from 2017 about Palestinians makeup artists working for a charity project.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

The Taliban's Takeover Of Afghanistan

The Taliban militia was back in Afghanistan, after 20 years of war with the West. Following a deal between the US and the Taliban, the international forces withdrew themselves from the country on August, 2021, resulting in a rapid advance by the Taliban to takeover major Afghan cities. With Kabul being captured on August 15, reports of president Ashraf Ghani leaving the country surfaced. Soon after, visuals of the militia storming in the presidential palace appeared. Meanwhile, social media saw a surge of misinformation following the Taliban takeover.

7. Old street play revived as Taliban take over

A 2014 video of a street play to raise awareness about atrocities against women in Iraq surfaced with claims that it showed the Talibans auctioning Afghan women. The video was viral on platforms and showed visuals of pedestrians watching a man auction women as sex slaves.

We found that the video is old and from a mock auction held in London to raise awareness about Islamic State's treatment of women.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

8. Digital creation shared as Afghan escaping on an aircraft wing

A video of a man lying on the turbine engine of an aircraft as it was in motion was viral with netizens claiming that it showed desperate visuals of Afghans escaping the Taliban regime. BOOM found that the video is a digital creation by a YouTuber Quan Hoa TV.

Also, as the man seen positioned on the turbine engine remained static as opposed to the high wind and air pressure that normally exists in the same height, showed that the 'escape' was not scientifically possible.

This bizarre piece of misinformation made it to a news bulletin of News 18 Bangla as well.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

Communal Violence In Bangladesh And Tripura

Bangladesh saw an outbreak of mob attacks against Hindus in October 2021, after rumours of the Quran being desecrated during Durga Puja spread on social media. The rumour started with the circulation of images of the Quran being kept on the knee of an idol of Hanuman in Comilla. At least seven people lost their lives in the ensuing violence.

No sooner did reports of the mob attacks hit the news, Indian social media was flooded with images and videos with misleading captions, making false claims related to the attacks. The ripples of misinformation were majorly felt on bordering state of Tripura, which were triggered by protests against the Comilla violence.

9. Video of fire in Tripura's Durga Puja pandal shared as Bangladesh violence

A video of a fire accident in Tripura which gutted a Durga Puja pandal and some adjacent shops was falsely linked to the communal violence in Bangladesh. In fact, media outlets - India Today, AajTak Bangla, TV9 Bharatvarsh, ABP News, Dainik Bhaskar, and Hindustan Times used the same scene to report about recent violence in Bangladesh.

We found that the viral video shows a fire mishap in Maracherra Bazar in Kamalpur, Dhalai District of Tripura which occurred on October 12, 2021.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

10. Video of man killed over land dispute shared as Bangladesh violence

A graphic video of a man being hacked to death over a land dispute in Dhaka in May, 2021,went viral with a false claim that it shows the recent killing of one Jatin Saha by rioters in Bangladesh. Devdutta Maji, the president of Singha Bahini, an outfit of the Bharatiya Janata Party, amplified the video on Twitter.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

India in Olympics, 2020

India had their best-ever showing in the Olympics in Tokyo in July 2021 as Neeraj Chopra won India's first gold medal in athletics. India won seven medals in Tokyo: one gold, two silvers and four bronze medals.. However misinformation around the Olympic turned out to be a spoilsport.

11. Fake Twitter handle of Pakistani player congratulating Neeraj Chopra

After Neeraj Chopra bagged India's first Olympic gold medal, Indian media outlets including Times Now and NDTV Hindi amplified a fake Twitter account impersonating Pakistani javelin thrower Arshad Nadeem. A tweet by the account @ArshadNadeemPak congratulating Chopra for his win and calling him his idol went viral.

We found that the account in question was an impostor handle and had earlier also impersonated former Pakistan cricketer Saeed Anwar.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

12. Morphed photo of poster thanking Narendra Modi for Tokyo Olympics Medal

A viral photo of a banner by the Sports Ministry thanking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Mirabai Chanu's 2020 Tokyo Olympics medal win began circulating on social media after Chanu won India a silver in weight lifting on the first day of the 2020 Olympics.

BOOM found that the banner in the original photo did not have any text thanking PM Modi for her victory.

Read BOOM's fact check here.

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