Fake news spreads during the devastating Kerala floods
In the wake of the devastating floods that have destroyed Kerala, a video has surfaced that is spreading disinformation about the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The video showcases a man dressed in camouflage, and as an Indian Army Officer claiming that the Chief Minister has stopped the army from conducting rescue operations in the flood-hit region. This video has been shared and spread massively and has become viral.
However, the Indian army has condemned this as "disinformation" and have taken to Twitter to term this man as an “imposter”. They have also expressed that, “Every effort by all & #IndianArmy aimed to overcome this terrifying human tragedy.” They have also mentioned that “We are at it #KeralaFloods .”
Similarly, a distressing audio clip has surfaced that warns of the imminent collapse of the Mullaperiyar dam related to the flooding. In the clip, an unidentified man says that the “dam is leaking” and the Ernakulam area "will drown". In addition, the man says, “A friend in the PMO [Prime Minister's Office] told me. So tell all your friends and family to leave as soon as possible."
However, Kerala Water Resources Secretary, Ms Tinku Biswal, has written to the state police condemning these "baseless rumours" which are "creating unnecessary panic". She has also directed the police to "take immediate action against the rumour-mongers".
Another fake news that has spread during the floods is of a photo depicting the submerged Renault outlet in Ernakulam, due to the floods. This image has been widely spread through social media. In addition, First Post published an article on August 10, stating that the image is, “an aerial view of the flooded Renault Yard in Kalamassery, Ernakulam".
However, through simple google image searches, it was found out that this specific image was first shared five years ago during heavy rains. Renault also gave their confirmation through twitter and expressed that this image is not accurate and that they will be filing a complaint.
Despite the floods causing chaos in the country, another fake news message has been spread relating to the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB). According to the message, a warning has come out stating that, “KSEB alert: KSEB likely to shut down its power stations in entire Kerala by tomorrow. Kindly inform your near and dears [sic] to charge their phones and necessary equipments [sic]. As the Kerala State Electricity Board KSEB would not be functioning the next day."
However, the state police and the KSEB have both released statements condemning this fake message and has warned that legal action will be taken against those spreading dangerous misinformation.
A recent video depicting blackbuck antelope being swept along the floodwater has gone viral. The video is captioned as "extremely shocking scene!!" and "deer in Kerala floods". The video claims to show that the depicted area of the flooding is Nilambur area. Some have expressed their concerns and stated, "can the state save these animals?".
However, the video was actually from the state of Odisha and not from Kerala. Officials in Odisha have confirmed that this video was in fact taken on 14 July in the Ganjam district and Sandeep Tripathy, the principal chief conservator of forests, told PTI News that, "There has been no casualty. All the blackbucks are safe and under observation of forest officials."
Our assessment is that, as in previous instances, the protagonist of such news remains dubious. One of the important factors to ascertain the veracity of a news is to verify the authenticity of the source. In all the five cases, it’s about ‘ a man “ or ‘a message’ spreading the fake news. The messenger has no trace or credibility. We feel that the public must be objective and not succumb to emotions when reading such news.
Natural disasters are a perfect platform to spread fake news. This could be repeated in other disasters that could come in the near future. Hence, we feel that when such news surfaces, we should disseminate immediate counter-narratives through the same social media.