Following the attack on a Central Police Reserve Force convoy that claimed the lives of 40 in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, a doctored video of Indian National Congress (INC) leader Priyanka Gandhi laughing as she addressed the crowd on the attack was widely spreading. A doctored image of her brother and fellow INC leader Rahul Gandhi standing next to Pulwama car bomber Adil Ahmed Dar was also shared widely following the incident.
On February 14th, 2019, an Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy came under attack in Pulwama on Srinagar- Jammu highway. 40 police personnel were killed when a local Kashmiri youth belonging to the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into one of the convoy’s buses. The attack occurred around 3.15 PM IST. Home minister Rajnath Singh immediately blamed ‘Pakistan-based’ elements for the attack and India withdrew the ‘most favoured nation’ status given to Pakistan. JeM claimed responsibility for the attack. There were revenge attacks on Kashmiris in many Indian cities. The union government did not condemn these attacks.
While it was difficult to analyse due to lack of comfort with Hindi, the sentiments were high with calls for revenge against Kashmiris and Pakistan
MayDay was someone with just two videos – one titled Pakistani Maulabi and another just a bike ride with a nice view
There were some pro Pakistani comments too
Beauty of Pakistan turned out to be a rather active account with videos of cricket, Geljit and Sialkot, etc. active since 2018.
Vyas has only one subscriber with no other activity
The Pulwama attack escalated the tension between India and Pakistan following Indian airstrikes on JeM camps in Balakot. Pakistan retaliated by strikes in Indian Kashmir.
An article on Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis, noted that the suicide bomber had faced past arrests and humiliation by the Indian army indicating a revenge motive. The article listed revenge for killing a JeM leader’s son by the Indian army as a second motive.
The bomber Adil Dar had recorded a video before the act. Adil Ahmad proclaims the following in the video:
“My name is Adil, I joined the Jaish e Mohammad a year ago. After a year’s wait, I have got the chance to do what I joined the Jaish for… By the time this video reaches you, I will be in heaven… this is my last message for the people of Kashmir,”. These words gave him a heroic image and many people turned up for his funeral.
The narrative against Priyanka Gandhi
The Twitter user i@AnkurSingh shared a video of Priyanka Gandhi and accused her of laughing after Pulwama attack. i@AnkurSingh’s tweet was posted on the same day of the attack.
The 11-second video shows Priyanka Gandhi saying bahut bahut dhanywad (thank you very much and getting up )
The user account was followed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s original blue ticked profile. The account is still active today, spreading right-wing views and the video is present as well.
The account is still active today, spreading right-wing views. The video was viewed 66.2K times as of 30th August. The tweet was retweeted by 755 persons. It seemed to be retweeted mostly by people with an Indian flag or other nationalistic indicating symbols in their profile. Some profiles also proclaimed their devotion to Hinduism. Of the first six profiles I randomly took to analyse @dhruvbhim was also followed by the official Twitter handle of Narendra Modi.
The account followed it on February 15th by another video of Priyanka Gandhi caught mid-smiling.
However, a pattern of blaming Priyanka & Rahul Gandhi for Pulwama can be still seen on Twitter.
Hardic has 21K followers and shares mostly right-wing views.
Multiple accounts seemed to be spreading this
Some of these profiles had very few followers indicating a potential IT cell link
Another fake news that Priyanka Gandhi met Pak army chief in Dubai after Pulwama was also refuted by alt news.
The full un-cut 1.28 minutes video shared shows Priyank Gandhi gravely addressing the press and announcing the cancellation of the press conference in the wake of the attack. She ended it by thanking the audience and requesting a two-minute silence. Her expressions and words appeared grave.
It is clear that the video was doctored with an aspersive intent. The people who retweeted did not bother to check the full video.
The language describes Priyanka Gandhi as a vulture (someone who profits from death). The content is deceptive as it is a clipped 11-second part of a larger video and was used to misrepresent Priyanka’s response to the attack. It is aligned with the disinformation narrative and could have caused potential harm to Priyanka Gandhi, her family and the workers of INC.
According to a Quartz story, there was an exposition of fake news against the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), insinuating that the congress leadership is happy about the attack. According to an investigation report by First Post, there was rampant misinformation on WhatsApp as well. First Post reports that many blamed alleged Pakistan sympathisers in India such as left-leaning students and activists. There were many hyper-nationalistic messages demanding war against Pakistan. Many doctored videos of congress leaders showing them unsympathetic to the attack were shared as well. The Firstpost further termed it as disinformation as a response to terror attack.
The Firstpost observes as follows:
“What is striking is that most of this content, especially the doctored videos and the misleading memes, were created within hours of the Pulwama attack.
For instance, on one of these groups, named after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), at 10.24 pm, close to seven hours after the Pulwama attack, a user posted a screenshot purportedly of a WhatsApp group named ‘Kashmir Live News’, celebrating the attack. The source of the screenshot was not shared. Instantly, other users started sharing communally-charged posts.”
Overall, the content seemed to be tailored to build up hyper-nationalistic emotions and seemed to be targeted toward an audience who holds such views. It also had the potential to sway the neutral parties.
The effect has impacts on national security, human rights and election. It diverted attention from the security lapses of the governments which should have been a priority from a national security perspective. Additionally, it painted the opposition party in a negative light. It also has human rights implications as collective hatred against groups and individuals was encouraged. From an election perspective, rather than critiquing the government, it directed anger against the critics of the government.
Critical response: multiple accounts pointed out that the video is doctored and Priyanka Gandhi in fact cancelled her press conference.
|Actor||IT cell chief, BJP supporters, Times Now ( pro BJP channel)|
|Behavior||Spreading false info deliberatelyIntent: potentially influencing UP elections and discrediting Priyank Gandhi|
|Content||Manufactured; repeating false content even after corrected|
|Degree||This particular incident per se is disinformation. However, it was clearly part of a larger influence operation.|
|Effect||This effect of this particular news was not significant as it was corrected but the IT cell continues to spread that narrative. Additionally, the larger influence operation must have done harm by circulating disinformation via Whatsapp. BJP won the UP election.|
Disinformation that was part of a larger influence operation.