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REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Making it up as they go along.
DROWNING IN IT

Italian monuments to porn stars: Indian fake news is now plain absurd

By Aria Thaker

As India heads for the last three phases of its general election, social media misinformation is turning especially ridiculous.

A vivid example of this is a video of a man pointing at grand buildings in Italy, claiming they are owned by Rahul Gandhi, president of the leading opposition party, the Indian National Congress.  

“He has looted India and bought these buildings in Italy,” the man says in Gujarati, the fact-checking website Alt News reported yesterday (April 29), two days after the clip was uploaded on a prominent right-wing Facebook page. The debunk establishes, through Google Streetview images, that the buildings referred to are historical monuments.

The original video is still available on the same Facebook page, Mera Bharat Mahan, which has 11,000 followers. Till now, it has been viewed almost 200,000 times on that page, and many identical uploads are available on different pages. Facebook’s community standards specify that the platform does not seek to remove fake news, “but instead, significantly reduce its distribution by showing it lower in the News Feed.”

Even a director to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), S Gurumurthy, retweeted the clip. A chartered accountant, prominent Hindu ideologue, and editor of the Thuglak magazine, Gurumurthy was named to the RBI’s board of directors last year by prime minister Narendra Modi’s government. He is also said to be a key economic advisor, even if unofficial, to Modi.

Gurumurthy, however, has long been known to share such misinformation. An Alt News roundup from 2017 shows five instances of him doing so, including once in 2016 when he shared a video claiming that India’s new currency notes had nano GPS chips embedded in them. 

Earlier this month, he tweeted a newspaper clipping claiming that the “son of a former Indian prime minister” (purported to be Rahul Gandhi) had been detained in an airport for possession of drugs and unaccounted cash. Alt News showed that the clipping had been generated on a website. Gurumurthy deleted the tweet after multiple Twitter users called him out on it.

India’s misinformation crisis goes far beyond Gurumurthy, though. The past month has seen many instances of evidently manufactured news, targeting politicians of parties across the political spectrum. 

A morphed screenshot, for example, fabricated a quote attributed to Smriti Irani, a union minister under Modi, saying she would commit suicide if the prime minister lost the election.

Photographs of porn actress were circulated last week along with the claim that they were of a daughter of a politician from the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, who had earlier come under fire for his comments about the Hindu nationalist outfit, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). The said politician does not have a daughter.

Another video clip posted by a supporter of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed that a politician from West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) pulled out a gun during a televised debate—it was, in fact, a microphone.

Read Quartz’s coverage of the 2019 Indian general election here.