Verifying them has proved to be a challenge for police
Nearly a week after the result of the bitterly contested West Bengal Assembly poll was declared, post-poll violence continues in different parts of the State.
Even after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for peace, announced compensation for those who died and the Union Home Ministry sent a team to take stock of the situation, a string of posts and videos, including fake ones, have surfaced on different social media platforms.
Verifying the videos has proved to be challenging not only for websites and journalists but also for law enforcement agencies. On Thursday, five days after the results of Assembly polls, the Kolkata police from its official Twitter handle urged people to report fake news.
“If you have any information about FAKE NEWS You can send an email to [email protected] or Contact: Land 03322143000,” Kolkata police tweeted from its official handle.
Over the past couple of days, the official handles of Kolkata police and West Bengal police have been busy sifting information relating to violence.
Social media posts by verified Delhi-based handles about BJP polling agents allegedly being raped in Birbhum were called out as fake by West Bengal police as early as May 4.
In another instance on May 6, the Kolkata police busted another fake post in which a pro-BJP handle claimed that a party worker Mainak Moitra was killed in Sitalkuchi.
“I am Abhro Banerjee, living and hale and hearty and around 1,300 km away from Sitalkuchi. BJP IT Cell is now claiming I am Manik Moitra and died in Sitalkuchi. Please don’t believe these fake posts and please don’t worry. I repeat: I am (still) alive,” a social media user said.
Kolkata police said that legal action is being taken in this regard.
A scroll on the timeline of official handles of the police forces refers to at least half a dozen or more posts and videos of violence, burning of houses or vehicles being called out for being fake.
The West Bengal Police Criminal Investigation Department has arrested a youth from Deganga in North 24 Parganas for spreading fake information and attributing it to post election violence.
Police officials admit that they are constrained to act in many cases, as the handles peddling the misinformation are operated by people outside the State. Not only supporters of political parties but also key functionaries of quasi-judicial bodies have posted videos on social media, claiming they were linked to post-poll violence in the State.
Political observers and organisations working for conflict resolution are of the opinion that the “amplified, opinionated campaign on social media” is making the situation murkier.
“There can be no denial that post-poll violence is happening in the State. The Chief Minister has herself come forward, appealed for peace and announcing compensation is the biggest proof,” Biswanath Chakraborty, political observer, said.
He said that an amplified campaign by the BJP, which in certain cases is resorting to doctored videos, is great injustice to the people affected by the violence.
Prof Chakraborty said the nature of violence after the just-concluded election is different as, instead of threatening political opponents, anti-social elements have indulged in killing and looting. In West Bengal, where politics is intrinsically linked to area dominance, violence after elections is a tool to establish political dominance, he added.
In the violence that has raged for the past six days, supporters of both the BJP and the TMC have lost lives. The BJP has claimed 14 of its party workers have been killed, whereas the TMC has said that four of its supporters lost their lives.
While Ms. Banerjee claimed that the violence was widespread in areas where the BJP has won in Assembly polls, BJP president J.P. Nadda has called it “State-sponsored violence”.
Subhapratim Roychowdhury of civil rights and research collective group AAMRA admitted that the ongoing pandemic has restricted the movement of fact-finding teams and rights activists to areas affected by violence.
Mr. Roychowdhury, who has prepared many fact-finding reports of violence including incidents of communal riots, said the administration calling certain posts fake is a welcome development but only one side of the story.
“In the past when localised violence occurred in different parts of the State, the administration and police have called out videos as fake or doctored. While this is a welcome development, it is only one side of the story, as the same handles will never certify whether a video or an image of violence is true ,” he said.
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