What started as a scenic road journey from Kerala to Tamil Nadu turned into a terrifying nightmare for a group of Kerala men, as they became the unsuspecting targets of a vicious fake news campaign on social media.
The victims, all hailing from Kerala have been identified as Malayalam cinematographer and Mattaya native Shihab Ongallur, and his technical crew. The crew were shooting the wedding of a couple in which the groom hailed from Erode and the bride from Coimbatore. On February 6, the crew shot at Coimbatore. On February 7 morning, a nine member group, including members from the wedding party left to Marudhamalai for a photo shoot at the Marudhamalai hill temple.
On the same evening, Shihab and his crew were shocked to see a communal fake post published on a Tamil Facebook page titled 'Modi Rajyam' going viral.
The post, drafted by a Tamil Nadu-based user named S Srinivasa Raghavan, included photographs of these men who had made a detour to the Marudhamalai hill temple in Coimbatore and the photo was perhaps clicked while they stopped to drink some water. A photo of their car, the vehicle details including car number, and a picture of one of Shihab's cameramen, identified as Shamnad, was posted on the page. Along with this a message identified them as 'a group of Muslims,' and asked 'What a group of Muslims were doing in Marudhamalai.'
"Tomorrow is Thai Pusam. Today, this particular vehicle came to Marudhamalai. Those who came were Muslims. What is the reason for them to come to Marudhamalai? It is another cruelty that none of the devotees have questioned this. Prevention is better," Srinivasa's post read.
On February 7 evening, the crew left to the groom's house in Erode to continue with the photo shoot.
Things took a turn for the worse when the post began getting shared rapidly. On February 8, the post had 183 likes/reactions and 443 shares. Several comments alleged that the men are terrorists, with some users urging people to, "please tag the NIA (National Investigation Agency)'. Another user asked that 'the police should monitor better' and a third user claimed that 'they (the men) had come to visit a place to build a mosque'.
Following this, Shamnad, the cameraman whose photograph was posted in the campaign, approached the Trithala police station in Palakkad, citing a threat to his life as a result of the fake news campaign.
"We travel everywhere for work and never encountered such an issue. Now this post and the false details has spread everywhere. Many people will have the post with them, without knowing the reality of the situation. I don't know. Maybe it is my beard which is the problem creator," Shamnad told Asianet News.
Following the police complaint, S Srinivasa Raghavan, the author of the communal Facebook post, deleted the same from social media. The Trithala police has also registered an FIR based on a complaint by Shamnad.
Editor's Note: This story had erroneously said that the crew had travelled to Erode first.