In an Election Year, West Bengal Topped in Fake News Cases on Social Media

West Bengal recorded the highest number of recorded cases against fake news on social media in 2021, accounting for about one-fourth of the total such cases across the country, according to NCRB data. West Bengal reported 43 cases of fake news on social media with Kolkata alone recording 28 of these cases, according to data published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

Bengal witnessed a high decibel electoral battle in 2021 between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition BJP with the two sides leaving no stones unturned in reaching out to the people. Social media was heavily used by all political parties, including the TMC and the BJP, to push their narratives as they fought the election on the ground and online.

“This is a matter of concern but not surprising because political campaigns in the post-truth era are taking unethical means to reach out to the people. This is becoming more predominant,” said professor Chattopadhyay, head of Journalism and Mass Communication at Jadavpur University.

“More than a legal issue, this is an ethical one. We need to strengthen the ethical framework to tackle this menace. Some efforts are being made to make people aware but we need more concerted efforts so that people can spot fake news whenever they see one,” he added.

West Bengal was followed by Telangana at 34 cases and Uttar Pradesh at 24. In all, India reported 179 such cases and West Bengal accounted for 24 per cent of those. Kolkata’s 28 cases made up nearly 60 per cent of all such crimes recorded across 19 metro cities in the country. Kolkata was followed by Mumbai and Hyderabad where eight cases each were recorded.

The Trinamool Congress and the BJP blamed each other for the rise in fake news cases in West Bengal. TMC spokesperson Debangshu Bhattacharya alleged that fake news increased in West Bengal with the rise of the BJP in the state, maintaining that the social media platforms are also to be blamed for this.

“A culture of fake news existed in other parts of the country but West Bengal was an exception. However, fake news in West Bengal increased after BJP’s rise in the state,” he told PTI.

“After the BJP came to power at the Centre, it tried to purchase the social media platforms. In our experience, we have seen that if we report fake news posted by some other handles, those posts would be removed immediately, but that is not the case with the fake news posted by BJP’s propaganda and shadow pages despite reporting them repeatedly,” alleged Bhattacharya who created the ‘Khela Hobey’ anthem of the TMC.

West Bengal BJP’s social media in charge Ujjwal Pareek said his party led a positive campaign on social media during last year’s assembly election, and blamed the TMC for the high number of fake news cases.

“We were very responsible in using social media and led a positive campaign, raising the issues of the people. It’s quite evident that TMC and its ecosystem used fake news,” he told PTI. The CPI(M) blamed both the TMC and the BJP for the menace, claiming that the two parties know the ins and outs of each other and how to use them.

“No one can raise a complaint against us on this issue because we maintain certain ethics, which the leadership wants. That is not the case with the TMC or the BJP,” CPI(M) central committee member Sujan Chakraborty said.

Snehashish Sur, president of the Kolkata Press Club, said journalists should verify their information a number of times before publishing a story. “A lot of new technologies such as reverse image search are available right now, and journalists must use those. Also, a journalist should never ignore the hunch about anything when reporting. He should verify and re-verify whenever there is a doubt,” Sur said.

“We are conducting a number of workshops to help journalists, especially senior journalists, learn to use these technologies and tools,” he said.

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