The UP Police has intensified scrutiny of social media to curb fake news and inflammatory content amid the coronavirus pandemic, investigating hundreds of cases and blocking more than a dozen accounts of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.
Working out of the Chief Minister’s office, a social media hub tracks keywords, phrases or trends that resemble hate speech round the clock. It also tracks accounts that spread fake news and misinformation, according to officials involved in the operation. “The information is passed on to us and we do a background check of location and examine the nature of the content. This is further passed on to the police cyber cells, which decide the next course of legal action,” said Superintendent of Police (Cyber Crime) Rohan P Kanay.
Till April Sunday, 403 cases of hate speech or fake news were flagged by the social media team to district cyber cells. In six of the cases, FIRs were filed and arrests were made in three instances. But five of the six FIRs were against those who allegedly made comments against the present government. A college student from Basti and a youth from Kanpur were arrested for allegedly making “objectionable remarks” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government’s lockdown decision. Two separate FIRs were filed against journalists Prashant Kanojia and Hansraj Meena for their remarks against the UP government. Shah Times, a digital newspaper, was also booked for allegedly spreading wrong information about coronavirus.
According to police, a team of around 30 officials is involved in checking the background of the information passed on by the social media hub.
“The teams track the geographical origin of the accounts and a database is prepared. During the examination of these flagged cases, the teams found that several accounts posting inflammatory content or misinformation were based in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. Some of the fake accounts were traced to Dubai in Middle East whose target was to create unrest within the society. While 116 accounts could not be traced, two accounts of Twitter, eight of Facebook, one WhatsApp and 13 of TikTok have been blocked,” said police.
Once the profiles are identified, the officials approach representatives of social media companies to take down such accounts. “While websites have been prompt in taking down accounts that have violated guidelines, Twitter was found to be less reactive. The idea is to ensure that such accounts do not get a chance to put out wrong things,” said Kanay.
Recently, the UP Police put out several clarifications on fake news over Tablighi Jamaat members. “We observed that several media accounts that were targeting a particular religion for the coronavirus, connecting the cases to Tablighi Jamaat. Not everyone is responsible for the actions of the few. Hence, we carried out checks and several accounts were shut accordingly,” said a police officer.