Twitter on Wednesday labelled a tweet by Bharatiya Janata Party’s Information Technology Cell head Amit Malviya as “manipulated media”. This is the first instance of the social networking site calling out alleged fake news in India.
Last week, Malviya had in a tweet called Congress leader Rahul Gandhi the “most discredited Opposition leader” in India after the latter shared a photo showing a police officer wielding his baton against a protesting farmer in Delhi. The BJP leader then shared a video claiming the “police did not even touch the farmer”, and said that Gandhi was spreading “propaganda”.
However, Gandhi’s tweet had made no mention of any police action. It had said: “It is a very sad photo. Our slogan was ‘Jai Jawan Jai Kisan’ but today PM Modi’s arrogance made the jawan stand against the farmer. This is very dangerous.”
Several fact-checking websites reported that Malviya, who was accusing Gandhi of video manipulation, had himself shared a clipped video of the incident. A longer version of the scene, shared by television network RT, showed two police personnel swinging their batons at the farmer one after the other. Malviya’s video showed only the second police officer, whose baton missed hitting the farmer, Alt News said.
In the video shared by RT, a faint sound can be heard when the first police officer swings his baton, the analysis by Alt News showed. However, the website said that the same could not be visually confirmed.
“This was an attempt to water down the force used by police against the protestors,” the fact-checking website said. “It must be pointed out that whether the baton touched the farmer or not is irrelevant. The video was shot at a time when large numbers of protestors had broken police barricades and the cops were retaliating with lathi-charge and tear gas.”
The viral image shared by Gandhi was captured by PTI photojournalist Ravi Choudhary. He also posted another photo of the incident on Instagram from a different angle.
Choudhary told Alt News that it cannot be certainly said if the baton hit the farmer as there was a lot of chaos at the time. He added that the farmer may have been hit by another police personnel, if not the one in the photos taken by him. “There are several videos of police lathi-charging at farmers who also retaliated with stone-pelting,” he said.
The fact-checking website pointed out that given the angle, it cannot be confirmed if the farmer was hit. But it found another video on a Facebook page, where the farmer can be seen displaying injuries on his hand.
Boom, another fact-checking website, tracked down the elderly man and identified him as Sukhdev Singh. The farmer told the fact-checking website that he sustained injuries on his forearm, back and calf.
The farmer confirmed that a baton had hit him on his leg, adding that the injury was not severe as he had paddings underneath his clothes to protect him from the cold.
But Singh said his arms turned “blue and black” after the police hit him. “They can say I have not been hit but I am right here if they want to come and see my injuries,” Singh said.
Malviya’s tweet was also shared by right-leaning news websites Political Kida and OpIndia. Both of them regularly share misinformation, the fact checking websites said.
According to Twitter’s “synthetic and manipulated media policy”, users are not allowed to “deceptively promote synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm”. The policy adds: “In addition, we may label Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media to help people understand their authenticity and to provide additional context...we may label Tweets that include media (videos, audio, and images) that have been deceptively altered or fabricated.”
Thousands of farmers from several states in India, especially Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting for the last seven days against the Centre’s agriculture laws.
The Centre invited protestors for talks on the afternoon of December 1, but it remained inconclusive and another meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 3.
The farmers are protesting against the three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – that were passed in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.
Farmers and traders have alleged that the government wants to discontinue the minimum support price regime in the name of reforms. They fear that the laws will leave them at the mercy of corporate powers. The government has maintained that farm laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.