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‘All-time high’ fake news storm hit millions in India polls

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New Delhi, May 22 (IANS) Veena Arora, a retired school principal in a small town of Uttar Pradesh, decided to use a smartphone in November last year for the first time at the cajoling of her children so that the family could stay together online even though they live in different cities.

In no time, she joined WhatsApp and started getting updates from family, relatives and friends. Then started the flood of forwarded messages from people in her contact list.

These forwards, many of which contained fake news, surged during the election time. Arora had no idea that these could be propaganda material. She became aware of the problem only after one of her sons alerted her about a fake political message she had forwarded.

“I never knew how a post could be fake or bogus. Photoshopped? I could never figure out if the message loaded with political information was right or wrong. For me, it was just information, which I kept sharing with friends and family members,” Arora told IANS.

Arora is among an estimated 300 million users — mostly first-time smartphone users, from the smaller towns and rural areas with no prior digital experience — who are particularly vulnerable to sharing fake information on social media platforms.

“The biggest challenge to fighting fake new is that over 300 million of the 550 million smartphone and broadband users in the country are low on literacy and digital literacy and are especially gullible,” leading tech policy and media consultant Prasanto K. Roy told IANS.

“For them, we need prominent messaging and public education on the dangers — that fake news kills,” Roy emphasised.

The country has 366 million Internet subscribers in urban locations and 194 million in rural areas, says the latest TRAI report.

The “ICUBETM 2018” report from market research firm Kantar IMRB said that the number of Internet users in the country will reach 627 million by the end of 2019.

According to Govindraj Ethiraj, Founder – BOOM, which has collaborated with Facebook, Google and Twitter, among others, to fight misinformation, educating new social media users about the dangers of fake news is a major challenge.

“Although millennials are no less vulnerable to fake news, they could be taught about its dangers through the introduction of education programmes in schools or advertisements. Reaching out to the old people, who are newly getting introduced to smartphones and social media is a greater challenge,” Ethiraj told IANS.

He, however, noted that once awareness increases among the general population, old people could also be educated.

“Many times, children teach their grandparents a lot of things,” Ethiraj said, while adding that fighting fake news is a daunting challenge.

“The spread of fake news reached an all-time high in the run up to the 2019 general election, despite social media platforms fighting them back by combining people (fact checkers) and technology,” Ethiraj added.

But this “fight back” has warned the organised fake news peddlers as they run the risk of getting exposed by fact checkers.

The number of eligible voters in the Lok Sabha elections this year was around 900 million. Both Facebook and WhatsApp have nearly 300 million users each in India.

Facing flak from different quarters for the spread of misinformation on its platform that were linked to dozens of lynching cases in India last year, Facebook-owned WhatsApp also introduced advertisement education programme in over 10 languages.

All these efforts, however, had only limited success in curbing spread of disinformation during this election season.

“Fake news has been a primary and significant driver of sentiment and passion through this election,” Roy said.

“Even now, on the eve of the counting day, fake news is being seeded by political influencers on Twitter (for example, Bollywood actress Payal Rohatgi saying Khan Market in Delhi is named after a Mughal invader and must be renamed Valmiki Market) and instantly being circulated on WhatsApp,” he added.

A part of the problem is that for many of the social media platforms India is a bigger market than their “home” market, said Ethiraj.

“These products were probably not originally designed to deal with the diversity and vastness of the India market, but they are now trying to adapt to the Indian situation and deal with the unique challenges that the country poses,” he said.

(Gokul Bhagabati can be contacted at [email protected])

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Rithambara hails Bhumi Pujan, recalls Ram temple movement

When asked about L K Advani and M M Joshi who have now taken a back seat, Rithambara said, “They lit the spark to carry the movement forward.”

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Sadhvi Rithambara

Ayodhya, Aug 4 : A day before the Bhumi Pujan by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Ram temple in Ayodhya on Wednesday, firebrand Hindu leader Sadhvi Rithambara expressed happiness over the event. During the Ram temple movement, her riveting speeches had a deep impact on thousands of Ram devotees. They also gave a boost to the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

In a telephonic interview with IANS Rithambara said that she could not exress her happiness over the once in a lifetime event like the Bhumi Pujan in mere words. Rithambara is elated about the resurgence of self-respect for Indian culture that has come to the fore after nearly 500 years of struggle and shared that she is brimming with pride and boundless joy.

Asked how she got involved with the Ram temple movement, she said, “The attempt by foreign invaders to destroy our culture made me angry and I joined the movement. However, my role in this movement remained small just like a squirrel. Though I was involved in the movement with utmost devotion, Ram Lalla took me towards Ayodhya and I took a resolute stand by the banks of the sacred Saryu river. I spent my youth for Ram Janmabhoomi and the Hindu culture only with the blessings of Lord Ram. I was groomed under the able leadership of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader the late Ashok Singhal.”

Responding to a question, the Sadhvi said, “When the Ram temple movement was at its peak, there were various obstacles in the way. I spent most of my time in jungles, caves and among beggars. People were scared of sheltering us in their homes. We suffered a lot when we were struggling underground. But all the pain is forgotten on the achievement of our objective to build the Ram temple.”

Rithambara said during the Ram temple movement her speeches were recorded secretly. At that time there was such enthusiasm among the people that the Ram Mandir movement became a mass movement, it was not because of any institution or organisation and now the outcome will be witnessed on August 5.

When asked about L K Advani and M M Joshi who have now taken a back seat, Rithambara said, “They lit the spark to carry the movement forward.”

On the question of women being excluded from the Temple Trust, she said it is immaterial. “The Lord wanted us to get it done. There is no gender distinction here. The temple of God is being built, that’s what matters.”

On the question of the ‘mahurat’, she said Lord Ram’s work is always auspicious. Ramji himself has chosen his ‘mahurat’. The whole world is pleased with the construction of Lord Ram’s temple. Festivities are taking place in every house.

On the alleged caste discrimination, the Sadhvi dismissed it as a figment of the imagination, saying that a seer has no caste. A limited number of people have been invited for the Bhumi Pujan due to the corona pandemic, so it should not be taken otherwise, she added.

In response to another question, she said she did not know who all were invited. Those who are not able to be at the Bhumi Pujan, can go there any time as per their convenience.

On a Pakistani minister’s acerbic reaction to the Bhumi Pujan, she said that Pakistan should respect the sentiments of crores of Indians. This will promote harmony.

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People behind the Ayodhya movement: Known and unknown

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Babri Demolition

Ayodhya, Aug 4 : The movement for a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya over the years has seen many key players from time to time carrying forward the campaign. The known faces are the one that have received their share of fame and publicity but there are some who remain in the realms of oblivion.

One of the initiators of the temple movement was Mahant Raghubar Das who filed a petition in the Faizabad Court for permission to build a Ram temple adjacent to the Babri mosque.

Several saints in Ayodhya still give credit to Mahant Raghubar Das for initiating the legal battle that is culminating in the construction of the Ram temple. However, there are many who prefer that he remains unhonoured and unsung.

Then there was Gopal Singh Visharad who filed the first case on the temple dispute in Independent India in 1950.

Visharad was a resident of Balrampur district and the head of the Hindu Mahasabha in the district. He had been stopped by the police from going to the Ram Janmabhoomi and he submitted a petition seeking unhindered access to Hindus to the Janambhoomi.

K.K. Nair, a 1930 batch IAS officer, was district magistrate of Faizabad when the idol of Ram Lalla was placed in the disputed complex on the night of December 23, 1949.

Nair refused to get the idol removed even though he was asked to do so by the then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant. Nair had told his political bosses that they would have to remove him before the idol could be removed.

A resident of Alleppey in Kerala, Nair opted for voluntary retirement in 1952 and was elected to the fourth Lok Sabha in 1967 from Bahraich on a Jan Sangh ticket. His wife, Shankuntala Nair was also elected twice from Kaiserganj Lok Sabha seat.

In 1949, Mahant Digvijay Nath, the chief priest of the Goraksh temple in Gorakhpur led the temple movement after the idol was placed in the disputed complex. The Mahant brought all saints and seers on one platform and drafted the blueprint for the movement which later spread across the country.

After his demise in 1969, his successor Mahant Avaidyanath played an important role in the temple movement. Mahant Avaidyanath’s successor is present Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who has also played a proactive role in the temple movement.

Then there are commoners, forgotten face of the Ayodhya movement. One such is ‘kar sevak’ Suresh Baghel, a resident of Vrindavan in Mathura. He made the first attempt to bring down the Babri mosque and faced police action, courted arrest and made several rounds of courts.

Baghel, who now works in a private company on a salary of Rs 6,000 per month, refuses to even talk on the temple issue. “Now no one remembers me and I remember nothing. Please leave me alone,” he said when attempts were made to contact him.

In the 1990s when the temple movement gained momentum, leading to the demolition of the Babri mosque, the then VHP leader Ashok Singhal became the chief architect of Hindutva.

His slogan “Ek dhakka aur do, babri masjid tod do”, created a frenzy and mobilised Hindus like never before. Singhal passed away in 2015 and did not live to see the Ram temple being constructed.

Parveen Togadia, then a senior VHP leader, was also known for his proactive role in the temple movement. He lost his clout after the demise of Ashok Singhal.

L.K. Advani and Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, then top BJP leaders, also played key role in the temple movement, giving it the much-needed political push with their party.

The BJP’s rise in India politics is directly linked to the temple movement and the role played by these two leaders.

Vinay Katiyar, a firebrand Hindu leader, was also the founder of the Bajrang Dal that gave a cutting edge to the temple movement. Katiyar went on to become a three-term MP from Ayodhya but later slid into political oblivion.

Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was another important player in the temple movement. He was UP chief minister when the Babri mosque was demolished and his government was dismissed the same day. Kalyan Singh was convicted for contempt of court because he had promised to protect the mosque.

Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambhara led the women brigade in the temple movement. Both were known for their fiery speeches. Cassettes of Rithambhara’s fiery speeches were sold at a premium in the market and were enough to ignite communal violence.

Talking to IANS, a senior saint of Ayodhya who did not wish to be named, said, ‘All these people have contributed to the temple movement which has reached a stage where the temple construction is beginning. I feel we should have made it a point to invite all those who are still alive and should have felicitated them.”

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Ayodhya’s Lord Ram is Orchha’s Ram Raja

Orchha’s Ram Raja temple will also be decorated in a grand manner on the occasion of the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ in Ayodhya.

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Ram Raja temple MP

Niwari/Bhopal, Aug 3 : As Ayodhya is ushering in a new era with the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ for the Ram temple, about 500 km away in Madhya Pradesh’s Orchha, home to the Ram Raja temple, enthusiasm is quite discernible. The Ram Raja temple will be specially decorated on August 5, the day of the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ in Ayodhya.

It is believed that Lord Ram was enthroned here not as a God but as a King.

Orchha, also known as the ‘Ayodhya of Bundelkhand’, is a city with a 600-year-old relationship with Ayodhya. Lord Ram is given a salute by the policemen during the ‘aarti’ performed four times a day. It is said that the devotees do not see the idol of Ram with their eyes but only seek his blessings by touching his feet. ‘Paan’ (betel leaves) along with a perfumed wick is offered to the devotees as ‘prasad’.

Ancient documents reveal that King Madhukar Shah of the Orchha dynasty was a Krishna devotee and his wife Ganesh Kunwar was a Ram devotee. Arguments followed between the two regarding their devotion. When Madhukar Shah asked his queen to go to Vrindavan, she spoke about going to Ayodhya. The king sarcastically replied, “If your Ram really exists then bring him to Orchha from Ayodhya.”

It is said that Ganesh Kunwar went to Ayodhya from Orchha and meditated for 21 days, but when Ram did not appear she was disappointed and jumped into the Sarayu river where Ram was seen in her lap.

Ganesh Kunwar then urged Lord Ram to visit Orchha. Lord Ram placed three conditions before her — I will be enthroned as a king in Orchha, where once I sit down, I will not get up from there and will only go to Orchha on foot on an auspicious day. The queen accepted all three conditions laid down by Lord Ram.

Local expert Pandit Jagdish Tiwari says according to the legend, the construction of the grand temple was going on when Ganesh Kunwar reached Orchha from Ayodhya with Lord Ram. The queen placed Ram in the kitchen from where he did not get up, as laid down in the three conditions.

The kitchen premises were then converted into a temple. This is the place where Lord Ram is the king that is why no leader, minister or official comes into the four-walled area of Orchha in a vehicle. Only Lord Ram is given a salute here.

Tiwari says during the day Lord Ram stays here but goes to Ayodhya to sleep. That is why it is said that “Lord Ram has two special residences — in the day he resides in Orchha and in the night in Ayodhya.”

Orchha’s Ram Raja temple will also be decorated in a grand manner on the occasion of the ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ in Ayodhya.

Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “Ram Raja ki Jai! Shri Ram Raja resides in Orchha, he is the king of the state. On August 4 and 5, Ram Raja temple will be specially decorated and special puja will be performed by the priests. To ensure the corona infection does not spread all residents in Orchha have been urged to stay at home and worship Ram Raja by lighting a small lamp on the pious occasion.”

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