Analyzing an article spreading disinformation

Sameer Prasai
August 26, 2021

Fabricated contents on the internet are more common than you think. They might take the form of a hoax, conspiracy theory, news article, photo or even video.

In this blog, we look at an article spreading disinformation about the death of Rohit Jaiswal, published in OpIndia. OpIndia is a website notorious for publishing fake news and anti-Muslim commentary. This story had stirred a sudden sensation in the Indian media but couldn’t spread widely, thanks to the fact-checking organizations who managed to debunk the fake news. The full article of the Rohit Jaiswal case can be found in the link below.

The full story behind the murder of a minor Hindu boy in Gopalganj

The article says that Rohit, the victim, was killed by Muslims as a part of a sacrifice ritual in their newly built mosque. It also talks about the atrocities suffered by the victim’s family through the hands of police and villagers which forced them to leave the village and settle elsewhere.

As we read the article, we notice a few interesting things there:

Framing of the title

The article was given the title The full story behind the murder of a minor Hindu boy in Gopalganj.” Two words grabbed my interest here: murder and Hindu. Was it necessary to mention in the title that the victim was a hindu minor? It makes me wonder if the article was written with the intention to enrage the Hindu community.

While the article itself tells us that investigation was going on, the title has already declared the case to be a murder. Planting a conclusion in the mind of readers before they read the article can affect how they perceive the content.

Accusations masked as allegations from the victim’s family

There are frequent accusations towards the police force and muslim villagers. Each of these accusatory sentences name someone from the victim’s family who, according to the author, made the claims. Here’s such an excerpt:

“The guardians of those Muslim children, who were sent to call Rohit, were waiting for all the children in that new mosque. When they reached there along with Rohit, he was captured and allegedly strangulated to death, family alleges.”

Mention of evidences without references

We can read about the mentions of various videos, reports and testimonials but there’s not a single link to them. There’s a sentence about “confirmation” of the incident by a local villager whose name wasn’t mentioned. On what basis the villager confirmed, we do not know.

There are two links provided in the article, both of which direct to OpIndia’s articles on the same case. The hyperlinked words were killed and ascertain. I have no idea how the links are even relevant to the context in which they were placed.

Images used

The images featured in the article show the victim’s sister and father in seemingly pleading gestures. News reports about someone’s death are supposed to show photos of either the victim or scene of the incident. It is only in the stories covering cases of delayed justice that I have seen the victim’s family members being portrayed in this manner.

When I think about the use of images in this case, it seems to be an attempt towards cashing on the sympathy of the readers.

Vague descriptions

There are instances where controversial incidents have been mentioned in a vague manner. Here’s such an example:

“. . . Ashwini Tiwari could be seen abusing Rajesh. The police station in-charge could be also seen abusing the deceased boy’s mother . . .”

A police officer has been accused of abuse. What kind of abuse? What exactly are the readers supposed to understand by abuse in this context?

47 days gap between the actual incident and the article’s publishing 

The body of the victim was discovered on 29th March. The victim’s family had accused his friends of murder and demaded police for justice. OpIndia, with its mosque conspiracy theory, suddenly emerged on 10th of May. This article was published on 14th May. Why this long gap? Was OpIndia investigating meanwhile? This seems unlikely because they haven’t mentioned any evidence but only allegations credited to the victim’s family. Had the claims been true, they would have been in the news in April too.

Hindu extremist author

I checked who the author was. In many fake news articles, it is common to find that the author itself is fake. In this case, however, the author seems to be a real person. His twitter account reveals that he considers himself to be a Hindu nationalist.

His tweets clearly show his bias towards Hinduism and against Islam. It is likely that someone like him would fabricate this kind of news to incite fear and hatred towards the Muslim community. At present, OpIndia has removed the name of the author from the article and has instead mentioned “OpIndia Staff” in the credits region. This might have been done to protect the author’s identity because in this case the author is not only vulnerable to backlash from the public, but can also be arrested by the police on the charges of spreading false information with an intention to harm. 

The update

Following the debunking of this news from fact-checking organizations and widespread criticism from the public, OpIndia had added an update to this article. You can read it below:

“Update: An investigation by Bihar DGP says that there is no communal angle in Rohit Jaiswal’s death. The victim’s father has changed his statements quite a few times. The father had alleged that his son was sacrificed to make the mosque powerful by Muslims, which police investigation has found untrue. Eventually, the father of the victim has also disowned the allegations.”

The author, once again, without any evidence or references, claims that the victim’s father had changed his statements and has eventually withdrawn his allegations. All the blame for the disinformation has been shifted to the victim’s father. Apart from the points mentioned above, the use of language itself speaks a lot about the reliability of the article. Although it is written in a convincing manner, a closer look reveals numerous grammatical mistakes (such as incorrect use of articles) and improper use of words. The tone of the article isn’t professional, which anyone used to reading reliable sources can notice. While an article with good use of language and correct grammar can be false, it’s unlikely that an article with poor language and errors in grammar can be reliable.

Altnews has prepared a case study of this fake news incident where they debunk it with proper evidence. You can read it here: Gopalganj case|Alt News