A recent report by Delhi Police has claimed that Pakistan is deliberately running a disinformation campaign to instigate Indian Muslims to defy Covid-19 lockdown. Earlier, Delhi Police strangely also discovered Pakistani link to the riots that occurred in northeast Delhi.
A report titled Project Digital vaccine: Weaponising Disinformation to Destroy Covid-19 lockdown prepared by the cyber experts of Delhi Police’s Special Branch stated that several videos appeared to have been shot in Pakistan and the Middle East with audio in Hindi superimposed on them.
The report further states that the videos show Muslims refusing to get medical treatment and assault health workers with requests to fellow Muslims to follow the same and adds that such videos are being viewed by a large number of people and may end up influencing a large section of people of the targeted religion.
The report also mentions that timely removal and quick rebuttal of such deliberate disinformation campaigns is required to ensure Indians from all religions follow social distancing and adhere to lockdown guidelines.
The report also claimed that popular Chinese app TikTok is being used as the primary medium to spread the disinformation campaign and the videos are further being shared on Whatsapp, Facebook and other social media sites.
According to the investigation of the Delhi Police, as per media reports, hundreds of high impact videos with fake news are being circulated to stoke religious sentiments in Muslims. A senior police official said that thousands of such videos were circulated on Twitter and TokTok alone and were shared widely through Whatsapp.
Initial reports have revealed that 10 million users have already watched the videos. The official also revealed that several accounts of the original video uploaders have been found to be deleted suggesting a disinformation campaign.
The Delhi Police in its report also revealed that a lot of youtube channels with lakhs of followers uploaded videos of Maulana Saad, the organizer of the infamous Tablighi Jammat congregation where he is seen asking Muslims to make fun of social distancing and ignore lockdown protocols.
However, the Delhi Police blaming Pakistan in its report seems rather convenient especially given the increasing communal tension in Delhi after the Tablighi Jamaat congregation and the riots that took place in February, according to experts.
According to Amir Ali a professor at Jawaharlal National University, who spoke to Times.com, Islamophobia has been transposed onto the coronavirus issue.
Even as the details about the Tabligh Jammat congregation were emerging #CoronaJihad, #NizamuddinIdiots, #Covid-786 began trending. #CoronaJihad was shared 300,000 times and potentially seen by 165 million people on Twitter as per the data shared by Equality Labs.
#CoronaJihad tweets had falsely shown a Muslim man from Delhi intentionally coughing on somebody when in fact the video was shot in Thailand. However, that did not stop some from labelling Muslims as ‘vile minded people’ and referring to the virus as #TabighiJamaatVirus. Another video purportedly showing Muslims intentionally sneezing on another was debunked.
Memes showing China as the producer of virus and Muslims as the distributors have also surfaced. Such trends on online media have unnerved Muslims especially as it comes on the backdrop of Delhi riots.
Various tweets lambasting Muslims were tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a minister in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party Government had called the congregation as Talibani crime.
“Talibani Crime” by Tablighi Jamaat”.. This is not a negligence, it’s a “serious criminal act”. When the entire country is fighting united against Corona, such a “sin” is unpardonable. #IndiaFightsCorona
— Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (@naqvimukhtar) March 31, 2020
Indian television news channels also flashed headlines such as “Save the country from Corona Jihad” and “Who is the villain of Nizamuddin?”
In such a situation and amidst the backdrop of anti-CAA protests, a law which Muslims believe to be detrimental to them and the Delhi riots and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation that has once again increased communal tension, blaming Pakistan’s hand could be a way out for Delhi Police to divert people’s attention and deflate the tension.