When Twitterati buys into a video of Modi expressing regret over Gujarat riots, you know things are bad.
It started off with an (allegedly) inflammatory chant by Jawaharlal Nehru University’s student Union President and blew up to become a national story involving sedition charges, controversial arrests, custodial beatings and an eventual release from Tihar Jail. Ironically, at the end, Kanhaiya Kumar landed up giving the mother of all speeches, which must have caused a lot of inflammation within the Bharatiya Janata Party.
However, as Kumar becomes the new hero against a government that is out to block free speech, the role of a prime culprit in this saga hasn’t been explored properly. (No, I am not talking about Smriti Irani or BS Bassi here.)
Remember it took a few video clips, carefully crafted and supplanted to media houses, to create a national uproar against an entire institution, with calls for #ShutDownJNU. The tide similarly turned in favour of Kanhaiya when it was discovered that these “seditious” videos of him were doctored.
Was it really that easy to insert “anti-national” slogans to a video clip and slip it to news channels? Are people really so gullible and prone to run footage that they get from dubious sources? To test how bad the situation is, we took a leaf out of the Shilpi Tewari School of Journalism and created a fake Modi video. To make it look fake, we used basic editing tools, pixelated the footage and just to be amply safe, we captioned the entire video with a #FakeIsReal banner.
By just supplanting the Prime Minister’s voice with that of a voice-over artiste, we were able to make NaMo express regret over the Gujarat riots, express helplessness over Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh not listening to him and criticise Anupam Kher, Bassi and company for their aggressive statements.
Despite the fact that the video was a fake (and a shoddy one at that), it received thousands of views and hundreds of shares and likes on Twitter and Facebook. Many were taken by surprise and disbelief over this “hidden video of the PM that had just surfaced” – and that was a worrying aspect.
I “dig out” video of NaMo where he expresses regret over Gujarat riots & how elements in BJP out of control! pic.twitter.com/P9qm7XNT9c
— Akash Banerjee (@akashbanerjee) March 2, 2016
Of course, JNU was not the first instance of news channels running digital mischief. Just recently, another prominent channel ran exclusives of a “secret letter” that Nehru had written to the British Prime Minister on the issue of Subhash Chandra Bose – that letter turned out to be a hilarious and error-ridden fake.
At a time when it’s child’s play to manipulate audio, still and video footage, we seem to be ever more believing in random WhatsApp/Twitter /Facebook messages. Earlier this used to be limited to NASA predicting an earthquake or free WhatsApp shutting down – but it seems those past examples were paving the way for a more concerted and insidious attempt by a few political parties, to spread malicious misinformation, slander campaigns via social media.
Worse – those who commit such acts know that the long arm of the law will never get to them. Shilpi Tewari deactivated her Twitter account temporarily and went underground with no police action against her till date.
Even after the videos have been declared fake by two forensic labs, the argument that “Doesn’t it make your blood boil to hear such anti-India slogans” continues unabated.
The fake videos of JNU weren’t the first and will surely not be the last attempt to influence public discourse using fraudulent means. While the government doesn’t seem to be too keen to curb this menace, it would be wise on the part of the citizenry to take random messages with a pinch of salt.
This article was republished from Newslaundry.com.