A day after fake posts on the number of missing persons in the State went viral on social media, the Telangana Police knew exactly what to do.
Within a few hours, every official social media handle of the Telangana Police had a ‘warning message’ pinned to their profiles asking netizens not to believe the rumors. Misleading data was refuted with facts and people spreading rumors were warned of strict legal action in multiple picture posts were since shared by hundreds online.
Two days later, three people based out of Yousufguda were arrested by Hyderabad Cyber Cell for spreading rumors online after their social media messages were thoroughly tracked. They are currently under investigation after a case was registered suo moto against them.
In recent years, fake news and misinformation has become a growing menace for the administration and citizens alike. Though there is not much of a concrete plan to curb this, steps, as small as they may be, are now being taken to tackle this phenomenon.
“It is very easy to spread rumours on social media. So when the fake news on missing persons began creating panic online, we knew we had to use social media to clear the air. That was the easiest and quickest thing to do and it worked,” says IGP (Women Safety) Swathi Lakra.
Lakra, along with Telangana DGP M. Mahender Reddy, Hyderabad Commissioner Anjani Kumar, Rachakonda Commissioner Mahesh M. Bhagwat and Cyberabad Commissioner VC Sajjanar, were the first to take to Twitter and Facebook to warn ‘netizens’ about misleading posts.
“Multiple people started tagging me on Twitter either demanding an action or to verify the said information. So I started responding by posting a clarification online. This is how I was communicating with them first hand,” she adds.
She, however, also acknowledges that fighting fake news has now become a new challenge for the police, who are trying to use technology and resources at their behest to nip as much misinformation in the bud as possible.
“It is difficult as there is no one way to tackle fake news. While in urban areas we are using technology to spread awareness, we are forming all kinds of cultural troupes in rural areas to communicate with the citizens,” Lakra says.
Mahabubnagar District Police Chief Rema Rajeshwari is one such police officer who is using creative ways to fight fake news. Her police team, which also doubles up as a ‘cultural troupe’, travels in the remotest parts of Mahabubnagar performing skits and street plays warning people against fake news.
Last year, her proactive steps helped save the lives of two women in Jogulamba Gadwal district who were suspected to be child kidnappers based on rumors spread on WhatsApp. Rema and her team were able to bring the situation under control in just three hours owing to a unique ‘village police officer’ system where a head constable, who is part of local WhatsApp groups, is responsible for verifying information.