Social media can be a dangerous source of information because a lot of unverified news is shared on the medium. But such is our dependence on social media that sometimes not only ordinary people but also resourceful VIPs land in an embarrassing situation after sharing news floating on the medium.
Odisha governor Ganeshi Lal and Union ministers Dharmendra Pradhan and Pratap Sarangi, both hailing from the state, are among the latest VIPs to fall victims of this trend. Taken in by a piece of information on the social media, all of them congratulated an Odia pilot of the Indian Air Force on August 8 for a feat he never accomplished.
Lal, Pradhan and Sarangi took to Twitter to congratulate Wing Commander Nikhil Rath after learning from social media that he had been selected for the country’s first manned space mission, Gaganyaan. None of them had checked the authenticity of the information. It later came to light that Rath was not among the four candidates shortlisted for the mission who are already in Russia undergoing training.
The governor tweeted that he was delighted to know about Rath’s selection for the mission and wished him success. After this reporter sought to know the source of Lal’s information about Rath being shortlisted among the four astronauts for the ambitious space project, the governor’s office deleted the tweet.
Union minister for petroleum Dharmendra Pradhan had tweeted, “Elated to learn that Wg. Cdr. Nikhil Rath of IAF has been shortlisted to be a part of the 4 member crew of India’s first manned space mission, Gaganyaan 2022. It is a matter of immense pride that this son of Odisha will be a part of this significant & prestigious mission.”
Union minister of state for animal husbandry and MSME Sarangi tweeted: “ Happy to know that IAF Wing Commander Nikhil Rath of Balangir, Odisha has been shortlisted to be part of the human mission to space in the prestigious #Gaganayan project of Isro . Heartiest congratulations to the ace pilot from the State for getting this opportunity.”
He had added, “Pretty sure that he would hone his skills during the one year rigorous training in Russia. Wishing him all the best for the final selection!”
According to the news shared on social media, Rath and three other astronauts from India have finished their training at Yuri A. Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia on crew action in the event of an abnormal descent module landing.
Based on the tweets, many media houses, including leading news agencies ran the story. “What could we do? We ran the story after seeing the congratulatory messages. Even leading new agencies and people from Bangalore filed stories on different websites,” said a journalist who fell victim to the fake news.
The fact is that Rath had been included among the 25 pilots shortlisted in 2019 for space missions under the Gaganyaan. But he was not among the four candidates finally selected for the mission. Sources said Rath was initially among the 25 shortlisted candidates who cleared the rigorous mental, physical and psychological tests.
But he missed out on selection in the subsequent stages. Only four pilots were sent to Russia for the 16-month training and Rath was not among them, official sources said.
But many were misled after one of his relatives put an old photo on Twitter congratulating him. Later a flood of congratulatory messages followed. Sources said even a senior IPS officer had congratulated him without verifying the information.
“I congratulated him based on the news shared on social media,” the IPS officer told The Telegraph.
Rath, who is currently at an air base in Gujarat, told this newspaper, “This news is not correct. I have not been selected (for the space mission). I refute the news. Some news channels are competing for TRPs and filing stories without verifying the truth. What can I do?”