Kolkata: On 2 May, after the results of the assembly elections declared Trinamool Congress as the winner, Mamata Banerjee had announced that Covid management would be her priority as she was set to begin her third term as the chief minister. In the five days since she took oath on 5 May, however, it seems the Mamata government also had another priority on mind — tackling what it calls “fake news” and “hate posts” on social media.
In these five days, the West Bengal Police claims to have identified 550 “fake” posts on social media, mostly related to incidents of post-poll violence, with the CM saying the BJP and its wings and supporting organisations were behind these messages.
According to a senior officer in the West Bengal Police, at least 34 cases have been registered in the last five days in Kolkata and across the state against the alleged offenders for posting purported “fake” and “communally sensitive” posts that had a potential to “incite tension between communities and foment trouble”.
At least 21 people were arrested in connection with such cases, the officer said. Among those facing FIRs are senior BJP leaders Suvendu Adhikari, Kailash Vijaywargiya and Agnimitra Paul.
According to the police, at least 150 posts were blocked or taken down by social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter on its appeal, and a request has also been sent to the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to take action against 50 posts that were “highly inflammatory in nature”.
The BJP, however, said all this was a trick to “divert attention using fissiparous arguments”.
BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya said the CM should, instead, “focus on reining in her cadres and allow the administration to act against the marauding mobs”.
Addressing the media Monday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said “BJP’s IT cell” has been posting “fake news” because the party is not able to accept their defeat in the elections. “There has been no genocide. We saw only one genocide that took place in Cooch Behar’s Sitalkuchi on the polling day,” she said.
While there have been multiple videos alleging gang rapes having taken place in different areas since the election verdict, the police said there were actually “only two such incidents”, and that both were “not connected with politics”.
Cyber wings of CID, Kolkata Police keeping a check on posts
The cyber cells of the state’s CID and the Kolkata Police are on the job to find “fake and hate posts” and act.
“We have identified around 550 fake and hate posts on several social media platforms. We wrote to several agencies, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, requesting them to remove or block such posts. As of now, at least 150 such posts were blocked or taken down by the agencies,” said the senior officer quoted above.
“The Bengal police has busted at least 25 such fake posts. These were posts, which were Photoshopped, or mixed or made by using images of foreign countries, other states and some from movies too. We have issued statements by putting out the original post and current ones to show how it was done.”
The officer added: “The cyber wing of the state’s CID and Kolkata Police are working round the clock to maintain a vigil on such posts. The CID has also appealed to the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to take action against at least 50 posts, which are highly ‘inflammatory’ in nature.”
FIRs against ‘fake news’
The West Bengal Police is especially looking into the social media posts that could “foment communal tension” across districts, said the officers ThePrint spoke to.
“We are trying to identify from where the spots are being generated. We are also trying to identify people who are posting such content on social media. In several cases, we are getting dummy accounts. As of now, we have arrested 21 persons in connection with such posts. IPC sections for conducing to public mischief, provocation or criminal conspiracy to foment trouble are being slapped against the offenders,” a second senior police officer told ThePrint.
The officer said FIRs have also been lodged against senior BJP leaders Suvendu Adhikari, Kailash Vijaywargiya and Agnimitra Paul for posting such videos or for delivering “inciting speeches”. An FIR has been registered with the Kolkata Police against actor Kangana Ranaut for her “inflammatory” post referring to political violence in Bengal, added the officer.
“We want to make people aware of such posts and be conscious about what they share. Any post that is being shared on WhatsApp groups can also lead to a complaint. If we get a complaint from any member from the group, we can take action against the person who forwarded it. People should be careful about what content they share and forward,” he added.
The officer also pointed out that allegations of rapes and molestation were probed into.
“It turns out that only two incidents actually happened. There was an incident of a gang rape at Pingla and another incident of a rape at Khejuri. But these incidents are not connected with politics,” he added.
Even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee claimed that the majority of social media posts, including videos and images, related to post-poll violence in Bengal are “fake” and created by “BJP’s IT cell”, the BJP said it was nothing but her “trick to divert attention”.
Amit Malviya, the national in-charge of BJP’s information and technology department, told The Print: “Murder of BJP workers and supporters amidst large scale retributive political violence unleashed by TMC cadres and Mamata Banerjee’s studied silence on the bloodletting in the state is a grim reality.”
He added: “She should focus on reining in her cadres and allow the administration to act against the marauding mobs, who are looking towards her for instructions, instead of trying to divert attention using fissiparous arguments.”
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