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Fake news threat continues

Fake news threat continues

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown on March 24, he also warned about the perils of fake news. It is unfortunate that some of the top functionaries of his own government, by their acts of omission and commission, are adding grist to the rumor mills.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, for instance, informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that as many as three out of 10 migrant workers may be carrying the deadly coronavirus to their respective native places. Of course, he clarified that it was just a possibility, but the point is: why should a top government lawyer come up horrifying, hypothetic statements that can be easily misconstrued by the media and the social media, that can generate a lot of fake news, that can further frighten an already terrified citizenry?

At the daily official press briefing yesterday in New Delhi, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Luv Agrawal was asked about this frightening figure. He was incredulous; he candidly said that he had no idea about it. Informally chatting with reporters, he asked them as where did they get the three-out-of-ten number.

“From the government,” the reporter who had asked the question replied. “The government said that in the Supreme Court.”

Mehta seems to be careless with the use of words. As Additional Solicitor General defending the constitutionality of the draconian Section 66A—which the Supreme Court invalidated in 2015—had used the expression “trillions of people” not once but thrice. He had said, “By the medium of internet, rumors having a serious potential of creating a serious social disorder can be spread to trillions of people without any check which is not possible in case of other mediums.”

Evidently, the learned counsel is ignorant about the fact that 1,000 billions make a trillion and the population of the world is less than 8 billion. In other words, it will have to multiply about 2,500 times to qualify to be called trillions of people.

While careless use of words might have some journalist to write a sneering snippet, hypothesizing that three of ten migrant laborers walking back to their native places might be infected was dangerously irresponsible.

Incompetence of those holding high offices have almost defeated the purpose of the lockdown. Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is an example. His Ministry failed miserably in spreading fake news and panic among the daily wagers in Delhi, which exacerbated, if not began, the exodus.

This is despite the fact that the Prime Minister had emphasized that “we must also be careful that during such times, knowingly or unknowingly, several rumors circulate. I appeal to you to beware of any kind of rumors or superstitions.”

People like Mehta and Prasad need to take this appeal seriously..