Kashmir unrest: Unchecked circulation of provocative fake news may derail chances of peace

The Kashmir Valley may be staring at another tumultuous summer if rumors mongers on social and mainstream media are not prevented from circulating fictitious and provocative fake news. In several of these instances, in fact, the “news” is even supplemented with quotes from officials.

Media scholars inside and outside the Valley say this is an alarming situation, and given the unchecked proliferation of fake news in a place as sensitive as Kashmir, even small rumours can potentially snowball into major controversies and even claim lives.

“Since the spread of internet and social media usage in Kashmir, many people have assumed the role of journalists. They post fake news on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook without caring about the repercussions of their action. Many others take social media posts at face value and distribute it as gospel,” said Mohammad Waseem, a Kashmiri media scholar.

For example, during a shootout at Hafoo Nazneenpora village in South Kashmir’s Tral last week — the hometown of slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani — rumours circulated on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook. These said the internet has been disconnected in South Kashmir; they said curfew is imposed in Tral; that 50,000-1,00,000 are marching towards the encounter site; they claimed three Pakistani militants have been killed; that Sabzar Ahmad Bhat was trapped in the house; that militants carried a heavy cache of arms with them — they were all untrue.

“When I heard about the encounter, I logged on to my Twitter feed to check for news. I was surprised to see dozens of bogus news items making the rounds. I read about eight militants being trapped in the area and internet being snapped. They were all false,” said Zahid Ali, a resident of Tral, who lives a few hundred metres from Nazneedpora village.

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