There has been a visible proliferation of disinformation on social media after the Balakot airstrike, attempting to show that 292 terrorists were killed in the Indian Air Force operation. The false images have circulated relentlessly, despite the defence minister herself saying that there are “no numbers” to give out.
Alt News found that previously debunked images have resurfaced on social media, especially on WhatsApp, to show devastation across the border. The claims are being espoused with the help of a manufactured WhatsApp chat, which was taken down (archive) by its creator after Alt News’s fact-check report.
The fake WhatsApp chat between an Indian and his ‘Pakistani friend’
A Twitter user Shekhar Chahal shared a WhatsApp chat with an alleged Pakistani, who he claimed is a resident of Balakot. The “friend” suggested that the Indian Air Force’s air strike killed 292 terrorists of the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Chahal is followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter.
In the chat, Chahal’s “friend” said that his mother is the dean of “Balakot Medical University” and was responsible for examining the dead bodies of the slain terrorists.
Alt News, however, established that the “Balakot Medical University” does not exist. In fact, the nearest medical college is situated at a distance of over 40 km from Balakot.
Moreover, the chat was replete with erroneous Urdu, hinting that it is false.
After Alt News’s fact-check, Chahal took down his tweet but clearly not before the damage was done.
2015 Pakistan heatwave images
A set of images accompanying the manufactured WhatsApp chat shows bodies in a white shroud.
All of these photographs pertain to the 2015 heatwave in Pakistan that killed thousands of people. Alt News discovered original images on Getty (1, 2, 3) and Time via a simple Google reverse-image search.
Another image doing rounds of social media shows mass graves.
While Alt News was unable to discern its exact source, we found a 2016 article that carried the same photograph.
Google reverse-image search also threw up a 2013 New York Times article carrying a similar image. The photograph was sourced to the Associated Press, which described it as, “Pakistani men prepare the graves of Saturday’s bombing victims in Quetta, Pakistan, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.” This photograph seemed to be of the same location as the viral image but taken from a different angle.
You can read a detailed report on all the above images here.
Old, unrelated satellite images
The collage highlighted above showcases alleged before-after photographs of the site bombed in the Balakot airstrike. This is an attempt to portray that while the building on the “before” image (left) stands tall, the same building in the ‘after’ image (right) now stands pulverised. The identical imagery was also used in a Zee News broadcast.
We, however, found that these are old, unrelated images. The site shown by Zee News was not the bombed site, and was, in fact, situated 5 km away from the site that was bombed. Moreover, the satellite image viral on social media and used by Zee News was five years old. Alt New’s detailed fact-check can be accessed here.
Fake TV clip
A Facebook user, Bhola Nath Varma posted two videos, supposedly of a Pakistani news channel report saying, “देखिये और सोचिज।” (watch and think). The message posted along with the video suggests that social media users should watch this on-ground news report after the Balakot air strike in Pakistan to understand the reality. In the video, some people can be seen carrying the corpses of terrorists who apparently died in the attack. The post, which has now been deleted, had garnered more than 10,000 shares and close to 9 lakh views.
A user named Megha Osheen also tweeted the video with the claim that Pakistani journalists are giving us the evidence of the air strike. It has racked up close to 1300 retweets so far.
Yeh lo saboot. Pakistani joirnalists de rahe hai saboot.
Arrey jaldi leke jao usko. Chupao yaar. Camera band kar yaar. Isko mat dikhao yaar, yeh apni bezzathi ho rahi hai. Pakistan ki bezzathi ho rahi hai yaar.
Bhaiyya bhaiyya ek peg banaake lao jaldi se.😂😂😂
HOW IS THE JOSH? pic.twitter.com/A7j2lZZEEe
— 🇮🇳Megha Osheen🇮🇳 (@Megha94507473) March 7, 2019
Another Facebook page, 4K Viral Hindustan , has also shared the video with the identical text.
In the comments section of Facebook posts and as responses to the Twitter post, several people expressed their doubts about the veracity of the video.
Alt News found that the video attempts to portray a Pakistani news channel trying to cover up the deaths due to the IAF air strike. When we looked at the video frame-by-frame, in one particular frame, we found that the text inscribed on the microphone, held by the reporter reads, “लाईट टीवी”, Light TV. It is highly improbable that the mic of a Pakistani news channel would have a logo in Hindi. Moreover, the behaviour of the duo shown as reporters in the video is atypical to reporters covering such a serious incident, involving multiple casualties.
Urdu language blunders
Even though the attempt is to portray a Pakistani channel, the language spoken in the video doesn’t even remotely sound like Urdu. For instance, the reporter says, “khuda ki daya se” (by god’s mercy) whereas a person with a basic fluency in Urdu would be more likely to say, “khuda ke karam se”. Also, the duo in the video use Hindi words like “jyada” (more), and “nivedan” (request). Had the correspondents been based in Pakistan, their most common choice of words would have been “zyada” and “guzaarish”.
Circulating the same imagery, again and again, suggests an attempt to create a false perception. After India’s retaliation for the Pulwama terror attack, there has been a visible attempt to portray that the airstrike was able to take on nearly 300 terrorists. Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah made similar claims despite the Indian Air Force and the government refusing to give a number.
This article first appeared on Alt News.