Gauri Lankesh was never one to mince words. Her very last editorial before her life was abruptly ended by three bullets, was on the subject of fake news.
Titled “In the age of false news”, Gauri’s last editorial – appearing in her weekly column ‘Kanda Hage’ – lays out innumerable examples of how pervasive fake news has become in the time of social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
Starting close to home, Gauri picks up on the rumours that had spread in Bengaluru of intrusive rules apparently created by the Karnataka government for Ganesha celebrations. The rules apparently demanded a massive deposit for conducting Ganesha celebrations, restricted how big the idol could be, where and when it could be installed and taken in procession and so on.
Tracing the rumours back to an article by the website Postcard.news, Gauri squarely indicts the right-wing, which she argues is mostly responsible for the ‘lie factories’ active in the country.
She compiles a long list of cases of fake news that demonstrates a startling fact – that it isn’t only fringe elements but even men in the highest offices in the country doing it.
“The BJP’s Union Ministers have taken the lead in spreading fake news,” she writes, and takes up examples of no less than Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and former Power Minister Piyush Goyal.
“For example, Nitin Gadkari had shared a picture of Muslims burning the Indian flag, and had commented, ‘On Republic Day, the Tricolour being burnt in Hyderabad’. There is a new image search app on Google. If you search an image on it, you will be able to find out where and when the picture originated. Using this app, Pratik Sinha (founder of altnews.in) found out that the photo was originally taken in Pakistan during a protest by banned outfits,” she writes.
On Piyush Goyal, she writes, “Central Power Minister Piyush Goyal had recently shared a photo, boasting, ‘30,00,000 LED lamps were lighting up 50,000 kilometres of roads across India’. But that photo was also a fake. It was a picture of a Japanese street used by a company in 2009. This same Goyal had recently claimed, ‘Increase in indigenous charcoal supply in the last three years has resulted in savings of Rs 25,900 crore’. He had also a shared photo, which turned out to be fake again.”
Gauri holds the media, particularly the television media responsible for the spread of fake news. “Today the mainstream media accepts the figures given by the government or the BJP without questioning its authenticity. And in this, we could say that the TV channels are 10 steps ahead.”
She’s just as critical of all of us too. “The sad fact is that the people believe these lies not only with their eyes and ears closed, but also with their brains shut off,” she writes.
What is most remarkable about the piece is that she does not spare herself of blame either. “I too made the mistake of sharing a fake news story this week. This was a photo of the meeting headed by Lalu Prasad held at Patna. Lalu Prasad Yadav had shared a photo which had been morphed to show a much larger crowd than had attended. I too had shared this picture. But soon, my friend Shashidar Hemmadi alerted me that it was a fake photo. Immediately I admitted my mistake and shared the fake and original photos,” she confesses.
Ok some of us commit mistakes like sharing fake posts. let us warn each other then. and not try to expose each other. peace... comrades— Gauri Lankesh (@gaurilankesh) September 4, 2017
The editorial, however, is a story of hope rather than despair. So, Gauri writes of the numerous fact-checkers and myth-busters who have emerged on the edges of mainstream media like Boom Live AltNews.in, Factchecker and Hoaxslayer.
“Until last year, there was no one to expose and put a check on the lies and manipulations of the (right-wing). But now there are several people who have taken up the task, which is welcome. Before only such lies came to the fore. But now truthful news is getting more publicity,” she writes.
“What is important is that none of these people are doing it for money. Instead, they are working with the sole intention of stripping naked the lie factories of the fascists,” she adds.