On February 14, a convoy ferrying Central Reserve Police Force soldiers was attacked in Pulwama, Kashmir. A few hours after the news broke, another team of CRPF jawans sat huddled together in an office in Delhi poring over the spate of pictures on their computer screens and phones.
“There was a flood of posts and photos and videos,” said M Dinakaran, Deputy Inspector General and chief spokesperson of the paramilitary force. “Some outright gory and others filled with communal hatred. It was disturbing.”
Dinakaran added: “Some of the posts were almost an insult to our jawans. They did not lay down their lives so that their death could become the cause for communal hatred. We knew we had to do something.”
This thought is what gave birth to the fact-checking team formed by the Central Reserve Police Force. Sitting in Delhi and a few other regional offices, a team of 12 to 15 people has debunked at least five posts a day since February 14.
“While we were busy with the last rites of our colleagues and friends and arranging help for the injured, we noticed that many wrong and fake posts were being circulated on WhatsApp,” said a senior Central Reserve Police Force official who is part of the social media team monitoring fake news. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the posts included photos purporting to show the last remains of jawans and those that claimed to show the jawans before the attack.
“Some of the posts were being spread by miscreants wanting to create a sense of communal unrest,” the officer said. “Some posts were demeaning and filled with hatred. We started collecting and monitoring all of them.”
The team decided to use a three pronged approach – monitor, analyse and debunk. “We reached out to all our personnel and our civilian contacts and asked them to send any images and posts they thought were false,” he said. “We also deputed more people to the team who, based in different regional offices across the country, started monitoring content on social media platforms.”
Photos and posts that could be debunked using simple research and online searches easy. “For some posts we had our men go to the ground and collect real time information,” said the official.
The official provided BOOM with a screenshot wherein the team has replied to a member informing him that a post claiming 13 sniffer dogs died in the Pulwama is fake.
It was now that another problem arose: How did they get the facts across to combat fake news? “We realised we have one of the biggest teams with us – our own soldiers,” said the officer. “We contacted all the three lakh of our personnel and told them that we will start sending the fact filled messages and they should in turn send it to any group – official and personal – where they spotted the fake news.”
He added that the Central Reserve Police Force also issued an advisory on Twitter asking people to not believe in such fake posts.
Dinakaran said many people were sharing photos of body parts claiming they belonged to the CRPF soldiers who were killed in Pulwama. “I saw one post from Buldhana [Maharashtra] which showed some body parts in a bucket,” he said. “It claimed that they were the remains of a CRPF soldiers and that is how it was given to the family of the jawan. The photo was horrific and disturbed me no end.”
He added that he informed his team, which found many more such photos. That is when the Central Police Reserve Force issued the advisory.
“That the CRPF in such a grieving and sad time has to set up a team to stop fake news shows the amount of fake posts out there,” said Dinakaran. “People who are sharing them do not realise they are spreading lies and that this is an absolute disrespect to our soldiers.”
This article first appeared on Boomlive.in. It has been lightly edited.