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Disinformation has been very high during politically significant events like elections in Bangladesh. During the 2018 national election, several fabricated screenshots and images were shared on social media. Fake profiles of political figures were also widely seen in social media. By impersonating to be the political leader, mischief mongers used these fake accounts to spread rumours and misinformation. 

Facebook and Twitter removed accounts and fake news pages linked to the Bangladesh government that had posted anti-opposition content, days ahead of the 2018 election. Facebook, Bangladesh’s most popular social network with an estimated 30 million users back then, stated that it had removed nine fake news pages “linked to individuals associated with the Bangladesh government” which mimicked those of independent news outlets. It also took down six accounts as they, along with the pages, were found “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. One of the accounts had 11,900 followers. Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a statement that based on their initial analysis, it appears that some of the accounts may have ties to state-sponsored actors”.

Twitter suspended 15 accounts in Bangladesh, most with fewer than 50 followers, “for engaging in coordinated platform manipulation”. A threat intelligence company that Facebook worked with determined that the people who created and managed the sites are “associated with the government”.

On Facebook, the news sites were all designed to look like authentic news pages, including one operated by the BBC’s Bangla-language service and another by the popular Bangladeshi online newspaper bdnews24.com. The sites would report false information about such things as turmoil in the camp of imprisoned opposition leader Khaleda Zia.

Photo: The Bangla Tribune, a sister concern of the Dhaka Tribune, ran an article alerting readers about its clone “banglatriibune.com” on November 14. Readers may note that there is an additional “I” in the URL. On the night of November 16, 2018, Prothom Alo decried its own clone “prothomaalo.com.” On Facebook, screenshots of a BBC Bangla clone from the URL “bbc-bangla.com” soon started making the rounds. All three clones resembled the originals to the casual observer, but the Bangla fonts used were dead giveaways to any keen reader.

Photo: Pages had been designed to look like online news site bdnews24.com during 2018 election period. The news state that Khaleza Zia (chairperson and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party) has given a video message stating Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir (the secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party) has been expelled.

Imposter versions of popular news sites such as the Bengali language service of BBC News and the Bangladeshi daily newspaper Prothom Alo had appeared online ahead of election.

Some bear uncanny resemblances to the real sites but contain discrepancies such as fictitious headlines replacing genuine ones or spelling mistakes in the websites’ addresses that give them away.

Photo: The authentic website of Prothom Alo (left) is shown next to another cell phone displaying an imposter site, Nov. 19, 2018. https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/bengali/bangladesh-censorship-11192018173823.html 

A representative of the ruling Awami League denied that the Bangladesh government was involved in spreading fake news on accounts and pages recently disabled by Facebook. Asked about allegations made in a Facebook statement Thursday, H.T. Imam, a political adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and co-chair of her party’s election steering committee, declined to answer and referred the question to a junior Awami leader. “We have no links with these accounts. We do not have any intention to launch any propaganda against anyone. We do not know who ran these accounts,” Biplob Barua told reporters at the Election Commission in Dhaka. “Our leader Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has no Facebook account. But you will find many fake accounts in her name,” he said, adding that the Awami League was “the worst victim” of misinformation spread on Facebook.

Photo: Unidentified people attack participants at a BNP election campaign rally in Dhaka, Dec. 15, 2018. https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/bengali/fake-news-12212018183024.html 

However, Facebook stated that the Bangladesh government appeared to be linked to imposter news sites, which had been posting anti-opposition content ahead of a looming general election.

ActorBehaviourContentDegreeEffect
Prime Actor:actors associated with the government
secondary actor:social media-Facebook, fake news websites
Transparency: The actors were hiding or disguising their identity or actions behind fake news sites
Intent: Suggests aspersive behaviour
The fake news sites would post disinformation about the opposition during the election.
Harm: The content prevented people from making correct informed decision.
 Truthfulness: The content was fake and deceptive. 
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation narrative.
Audience:People in general in Bangladesh 
Platform: Fake news sites, Facebook.
Human rights:Right to information.

ABCDE Framework Analysis:

Actor:

According to twitter the fake pages are engaged in coordinated platform manipulation. It also stated that some of these accounts may have ties to state-sponsored actors. The fake news sites were created to manipulate people into believing false news effecting voting decisions hence it may be concluded that it was actors associated with the government or the opposition. 

Behaviour:

BBC Bangla Editor Sabir Mustafa stated that it is very clear that the people behind this are very professional. They only added a hyphen to our URL to clone the site. We don’t know who did this, we don’t know what they intended. We need to have all the facts first, but it is very clear that whatever this is, it’s dangerous. This behavior suggests intern to manipulate voters during election. The actors were using unlawful means of communication. The creators of the fake pages and news sites were acting on behalf of state actors.

Content:

The BBC clone websites lead story was about the conflict involving BNP in Naya Paltan. Except, it was called a clash of factions, not a clash between police and BNP. The Bangla Tribune clone claimed banned party Jamaat-e-Islami demanded nominations in 70 seats against BNP’s offer of 45, with the addition of Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi exclaiming “unity is pointless.” Jamaat-e-Islami issued a statement clarifying their position and denouncing the fake news. The Prothom Alo fake news claimed BNP chief-in-exile Tarique Rahman would be the prime minister and Oikya Front leader Dr Kamal Hossain the president, if the coalition were to win the upcoming polls. All of the said news were false, deceptive and aligned with disinformation narrative.

Degree:

The target audience was people in General in Bangladesh specifically the voters. Facebook and fake news sites were used to disseminate the content on a wide scale without any verification to its truth.

Effect:

The contents threaten people’s right to information.

Diagnosis:

The Case has been identified as incident of disinformation because the content shows evidence of deliberately deceptive behaviour through creation of false news through fake websites to deceive people and prevent them from making well informed voting decision.

Conclusion:

Local media sources are doing nothing to combat fake news or disinformation. Rather, as illustrated by the case above, the media can occasionally play a supporting role in the spread of misinformation. For instance, In the case of PM Hasina being named the “world’s second best prime minister,” the newspaper Prothom Alo not only did not cover the story, but it also did not refute the erroneous information. For a long time, the same practice has been followed. The desire of various groups to promote misinformation, along with the mainstream media’s reluctance to address the issue, resulted in an increase of false news in Bangladesh.

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