How Gadwal Police is fighting fake news

Parents began panicking, even as the messages, which later turned out to be fake, were being circulated widely. It was then that the Jogulamba Gadwal police stepped in.

By Author  |  Published: 17th May 2018  12:20 amUpdated: 16th May 2018  9:26 pm
Fake News

Hyderabad: Waves of fear were repeatedly hitting several villages in Jogulamba Gadwal district after news spread that the notorious Parthi gang was on the prowl, and that children were being kidnapped.

Parents began panicking, even as the messages, which later turned out to be fake, were being circulated widely. It was then that the Jogulamba Gadwal police stepped in.

It took three hours for the police to clear the misunderstanding and bring the situation back under control.

But how did they do it?

“We presented them with facts,” District Police Chief Rema Rajeshwari told Telangana Today.

It was after her phone started getting flooded with several messages and calls from villagers about the notorious gang that she sensed something fishy.

The messages had resulted in villagers rounding up a couple of women as ‘suspects’ in Raypur village of Ghattu mandala, forcing the police to rush to the spot.

“Villagers were certain that the women had come to kidnap their children, so we launched an investigation. In three hours, we found that the women were actually folk singers from Wanaparthy and had come only to perform,” said Rajeshwari.

“We then presented their Aadhar card copies and other pictures to convince the villagers that they were innocent,” she said.

Fake News
File Photo: IPS Officer Rema Rajeshwari

 

But did the police manage to catch the Parthi gang?

“There was no Parthi gang here,” she revealed.

“They were rumors and fake news that were being spread like wildfire in local WhatsApp groups. But we managed to nip it in the bud or else the consequences would have been dangerous,” assured Rema.

It is not the first time that fake news via WhatsApp has created problems for the police in the State. Late last year, a standoff between Adivasis and Lambadas had escalated into violence after vested interests tried to aggravate the situation by circulating fake messages. The consequences had forced the police to cut off internet connectivity in three affected districts.

Now, the Gadwal police is showing the way to curb this growing menace. In the last two months, officers like Rema Rajeshwari and teams have fanned out across mandals and villages through community outreach programmes.

By assigning a police constable to every village through the Village Police Officer system, the teams are working closely with the sarpanches and gram panchayats.

“The officers have become a part of local WhatsApp and social media groups. As soon as the head constable receives a suspicious or hate-message, he/she immediately informs us. We then cross check the information, collect necessary facts and promptly respond with a rejoinder,” Rajeshwari said.

“We encourage our officers to read newspapers every day. We want them to be aware of what’s happening and also be skeptical. My team and I also keep sending them case studies on a regular basis,” she added.

Recently, her team had a brain storming session on the Auranganbad violence that took a communal turn.

“We analyse such cases and draft measures to prevent them in Telangana. Our main focus is to curb the spread of such hate messages and that’s why we monitor local WhatsApp groups,” she said.

The road ahead

In just two months, the community outreach programme has made police accessible to villagers.

“They are trusting us now more than ever. And because our word is final, every rejoinder we send is taken with all seriousness,” Rema said.

However, the next big thing would be to identify the culprit and hold him/her responsible for spreading fake news.

“This is a stretch but we intend to initiate action on people who are behind spreading fake news. Meanwhile we are asking the admin to pull down suspicious information,” she concluded.

Taking cue from case studies

Explaining how the police personnel identify fake news on WhatsApp, the district police chief said, “We encourage our officers to read newspapers every day. We want them to be aware of what’s happening and also be sceptical. My team and I also keep sending them case studies on a regular basis.”

Recently, her team had a brainstorming session on the Aurangabad violence that took a communal turn.

“We analyse such cases and draft measures to prevent them in Telangana. Our main focus is to curb the spread of such hate messages and that’s why we monitor local WhatsApp groups,” she said.

“The villagers are trusting us now more than ever. And because our word is final, every rejoinder we send is taken with all seriousness,” she said, adding that the next big thing would be to identify and nab the culprit for spreading fake news.

“This is a stretch but we intend to initiate action on people who are behind spreading fake news. Meanwhile, we are asking the admin to pull down suspicious information,” she said.