A Union home ministry think tank on Monday stayed tight-lipped on its abrupt withdrawal of how-to-spot-fake-news guidelines, which had debunked an audio clip maligning the Tablighi Jamaat chief and recommended a fact-checking portal known for exposing Right-wing lies.
The Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) had uploaded the guidelines on its website on Saturday, only to pull them out on Sunday after Right-wing trolls reacted furiously to the thumbs-up for the fact-checking portal Alt.News.
Pratik Sinha of Alt.News on Monday asked whether “Internet trolls” mattered more to the government than the “honour of the police”.
Contacted, a senior BPRD official merely said: “It was an internal report and not for media consumption. It was uploaded by mistake and the correct version will be uploaded soon.”
The 40-page guidelines for law-enforcement agencies, titled “Fake News & Disinformation – How to Spot and Investigate”, had highlighted several communally sensitive posts that were being circulated amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Among them it mentioned an audio clip that purportedly has Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad asking people not to follow social-distancing norms.
However, while the BPRD guidelines for the police on Saturday questioned the authenticity of the audio, Delhi police the same day contradicted a newspaper report that suggested the clip may be fake.
The Indian Express had reported that an initial investigation by the Delhi police suggested the audio clip, mentioned in an FIR against Maulana Saad, may have been “doctored”.
The Delhi police issued a rejoinder saying: “The news is not only factually incorrect but seems to be based on wholly unverified sources and purely conjectural imagination.”
On Sunday, the newspaper stood by its report, saying it had been based on conversations with officials aware of the probe.
The BPRD guidelines also included a screenshot of a fake video that accuses Muslims of licking utensils to spread the novel coronavirus.
The document referred to fraudsters using fake URLs to mislead people who wanted to donate to the PM-CARES Fund.
Apart from that, the guidelines mentioned several sites, including Alt.News, which have been at the forefront of busting Right-wing misinformation, including some put out by the BJP’s IT cell.
The inclusion of Alt.News attracted objections from pro-BJP social media users.
Sinha of Alt.News on Monday tweeted: “Yesterday, @BPRDIndia released a document which listed @AltNews as resource that could be consulted to debunk and investigate misinformation. What followed was a complete meltdown of the Right wing and widespread outrage, which has now led to the document being taken down.
“What sort of a message does this send to the police establishment? That Internet trolls matter more to this govt than the honour of the police? That they would rather shame the police than offend the trolls? That is very sad.”
The BPRD was set up in August 1970 with the mandate to work for police modernisation. It has evolved into a consultancy with four divisions: research, development, training and correctional administration.