On the fateful evening of May 23, 2020, six youth were killed in a lynching incident in far-west Karnali Province that created a public uproar in Nepal. Nabaraj BK, a 21-year-old youth of ‘lower caste’, who was in a love affair with 17-year-old girl of ‘upper caste’, reached the girl’s village in Soti Village, Rukum. He had gathered a group of 18 friends reportedly to get the girl out of her house to elope with him. The gang, however, was spotted by the girl’s mother 50 meters away from the home and informed the locals. The boys returned but were met with the girl’s villagers carrying home weapons on the way. The villagers reportedly attacked the gang wielding sticks and pelting stones all the way to the banks of the Bheri River, which flows between Nabaraj’s and the girl’s villages. Many of whom jumped into the river to save lives. Six lost their lives, apparently from drowning, while 12 others sustained injuries.
The incident took a few days to be picked by the national mainstream media, but when they did, they published it as an ugly face of the case-based discrimination that exists in Nepal. Nabaraj BK, of the ‘lower Dalit caste’ was an ideal youth – good at sports who had passed the first hurdle to be recruited into Nepal Police and whose most published photo showed him carrying Nepal’s flag. Due to the caste issue, the incident gathered huge public attention as many public figures and leaders expressing opinions about the incident and mainstream media following-up the incident with minor – and as some fact-checkers pointed out misleading – information.
Due to the public attention, the incident also became a hot issue for YouTube channels that needed contents attracting huge attention to earn money. In this case study, two YouTube channels is studied for the contents that claimed – falsely – that the girl was pregnant. The ‘pregnancy’ was a viral topic after the incident that reached millions and for some duration distorted the public debate around the incident. The rumor about the girl’s pregnancy started early after the incident and the Police which had taken into custody the girl among others had done a health checkup where the doctors had established the fact that she was not pregnant. Despite this, numerous YouTube channels using the fake screenshots of Facebook messenger chat continued claiming the girl was pregnant. Two channels, ybk online tv with 200,000+ subscribers and The SNP Media with 300,000+ subscribers, were among the channels who published numerous videos () about the incident and the pregnancy. Some other YouTube channels have already deleted (or made private) viral videos that claimed about the pregnancy of the girl.
Both studied channels published at least two dozen videos about the incident. Here are some examples of the video claiming the girl (both channels had actually named the girl) was pregnant:
|1||SNP Media||Today Breaking News: Just now came unthinkable news about Nabaraj and girl||693K|
|2||SNP Media||See secret Facebook chat of Nabaraj and his lover||46K|
|3||SNP Media||Just revealed secret about the baby in the girl’s womb||121K|
|4||SNP Media||Secret revelation about the baby of Nabaraj and the girl||111K|
|5||ybk online tv||Unthinkable chat revealed when Facebook messenger of Nabaraj and girl checked||1.2M|
|6||ybk online tv||Whose baby the girl is carrying, medical test reveals this||381K|
|7||ybk online tv||Last chat of Nabaraj and the girl||150K|
ABCDE Framework Analysis
|Prime actors:Two YouTube channels.||Transparency: The actors are not transparent and do not explicitly identify themselves.|
Intent: The behaviour suggests aspersive intent.
Dependency: YouTube channels.
|Numerous videos with unverified and false claims.|
Harm: Defamed woman in question; raised questions about her characteristics, and diverted public discourse towards falsified issues.
Synthetic: The content was unverified and false information.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation narrative.
|Target audience:Nepali population|
|Defamed woman in question; raised questions about her characteristics, and diverted public discourse towards falsified issues.|
Actor: YouTube channels. The first channel studied is The SNP Media which claimed to be based in India and was created on March 22, 2015, by ‘Mr. Abinash Patel’. It has 300,000+ subscribers and all its videos are about Nepal, and most are in vlog format with the presenter identifiable.
YBK Online TV was created on December 9, 2018, and it’s listed location is India. However, all the videos that are uploaded are about Nepal and in Nepali language. All the video has voiceover sound, but the presenter is not visible in the videos.
Behaviour: The actors are not fully transparent. Although the presenter is presenting the content – either in voiceover or video, there is no identification such as name or other details. There are no mentions about the company or person operating the channels.
Content: The contents are news format videos in Nepali language that were published in the YouTube channels falsely claiming or indicating that the lover girl of the person lynched in an unfortunate incident was pregnant with his child. There are elements of sensationalisation with use of words such as ‘secret’, ‘revealed’, ‘breaking’ or ‘unthinkable’ in the content to attract attention of the audience. Such words are also used widely in the video thumbnails. Some of the videos use fake screenshots of Facebook chat as the proof of what they were claiming.
Degree: The content was targeted to Nepali citizens as the contents were in Nepali and published in the YouTube channels primarily targeting Nepali citizens.
Effect: At the time when the lynching incident was a hot topic in Nepalese public sphere with focus on impunity in crimes against people of so-called lower caste, child marriage and justice system, the misinformation diverted the discourse to a speculative and seemingly lighter topic as many people started asking whether the girl was pregnant and what would happen to the baby.
The case has been identified as an incident of disinformation. The YouTube channels published news-like content with fake ‘proofs’ to garner views and earn advertising money. The publication was intentional, not based the verifiable facts and was speculative based on rumours. They used elements to sensualize the video and made no effort whatsoever to verify or balance the claims.
A heinous crime was committed by lynching six innocent ‘lower caste’ people by a mob of ‘upper caste’ people in Rukum, Nepal that a parliamentary probe committee and other civil society investigations concluded had a caste-based discrimination at its root. Probes pointed out weaknesses in police investigation, impunity in crimes against so-called ‘lower caste’ people and other serious social issues that exists in the system hindering justice to victims. Since the incident and relevant issues became a national interest topic, many YouTube channels saw opportunity to publish videos to garner more views and produced videos that were speculative and unverified. Two such channels were studied in this case study looking at the videos that falsely claimed that the lover girl of one of the lynched men was pregnant. Such misinformation diverted the public discourse from the main issues towards lesser issues.