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Convenient reads: On sharing fake news through social media

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s comments about SFI activists, where he forgave those who had vandalized his office in his Lok Sabha constituency, Wayanad in Kerala, were an act of sagacity that is rare. In a disturbing, but recurring sign of the toxicity that pervades the country’s public space, his comments were presented by a TV channel as condoning the Islamist bigots in Udaipur who ruthlessly killed a man they suspected of supporting blasphemy. The channel and the anchor in question issued an apology, but only after the malicious act blew up as an indefensible scandal. BJP leader and former Union Minister — for Information and Broadcasting, no less — Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, and some other party leaders who shared the same doctored video on social media did not feel any compulsion to retract their endorsement of the fake news. The doctored video clip, flagged ‘out of context’ by Twitter, remains on their timelines. Mr. Gandhi could be seen and heard as saying that it was children who did that, and while it was a mistake, the issue could be put to rest. The malicious misrepresentation of these words by the news channel and the BJP leaders is an extremely irresponsible act in a country that is deeply polarised. The Congress wrote to BJP President JP Nadda to take action against these leaders for spreading fake news, and get the doctored video removed. The BJP has not responded.

The police in Chhattisgarh, a State that is under Congress rule, have registered an FIR on the fake news video and complaints have been filed in other States as well. A police team from the State was prevented by the police in Uttar Pradesh — a BJP-ruled State — from taking the accused TV anchor into custody, adding yet another layer to the controversy. The BJP claims to be a party with a strong leadership that is serious about internal discipline. If its leaders are not expected to talk out of line from the official position of the party, the question that begs an answer is whether Mr. Rathore is acting in accordance with it. If his position is not the BJP’s position, the party must immediately clarify that and consider action against Mr. Rathore and other leaders who are brazenly spreading misinformation that could ignite more violence. The fact is that communally provocative statements are an easy route to popularity in the BJP ecosystem, and the party is either helpless or has no capacity to contain the malaise. By scripting an outright lie, the channel and the anchor further exposed the deep crisis of journalism in the country; as the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP must distance itself from Mr. Rathore’s act.

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