Unlimited freedom of speech often means that social media platforms are susceptible to misuse, misinformation, and hence, fake news. In the last few years, social media has turned out to be a massive player in shaping public discourse in a democratic space. Though there have been pressures from policymakers on service/platform providers, nothing concrete has built up towards accountability of the user or platform proprietors.
In India, there has been a consistent increase of social media users and instances of the misuse of this medium. India’s manufacturing of the Karachi civil war is only further evidence of this.
Indian media fabricates news of civil war in Karachi
The Pakistani Twitter community had a field day mocking and ridiculing Indian media after it was discovered that even established media outlets across the border had been peddling fake news about an imaginary civil war in Karachi.
It is unclear why India is so quick to resort to reporting false news about its neighbor. Jumping to conclusions does not work well in the field of journalism and media.
Perhaps getting a little carried away by the happenings in Pakistan’s biggest port city, Indian media manufactured an entire civil war complete with pitched gun battles between rival forces, bombings and an imaginary area in Karachi called, quite ridiculously, ‘Gulshan-e-Bagh’.
Something very alarming is happening in Karachi right now. Sindh govt has been overthrown by Rawalpindi Army HQ. Many clash reported in Sindh police and Pak army.
Pakistan Army Takes over All Police Stations in Karachi. pic.twitter.com/THXOzZwzDA
— My Vadodara (@MyVadodara) October 21, 2020
Established Indian news channel CNN News 18 claimed that the army had taken over all police stations in Karachi.
#NewsAlert | Clashes break between Pak Army and Police.
Army takes over all Karachi Police stations.
— News18 (@CNNnews18) October 21, 2020
OpIndia claimed Pakistan was in “civil war mode”.
Pakistan in 'civil war' mode after Sindh Police and Army clash after police chief was kidnapped. Read details https://t.co/D58TGVJKhV
— OpIndia.com (@OpIndia_com) October 21, 2020
One former Indian major and a member of India’s ruling party claimed that “10 civilians were killed”.
Civil War breaks out in Pakistan
In last 15 hrs Pak Army
-Killed 10 police officers in Karanchi
-Crushed few civilians by armoured vehicle
-Abducted IG of Sindh Police
— Major Surendra Poonia (@MajorPoonia) October 21, 2020
Times Now claimed protests were held as well.
Massive unrest in Karachi, Sindh as protest against Pakistan’s army chief is underway.
Pradeep Dutta with details. pic.twitter.com/D5QNZiV9cF
— TIMES NOW (@TimesNow) October 21, 2020
An advocate of the Indian Supreme Court said that an army-police clash had broken out, adding that that many officers had died.
This Indian user also created a new locality in Karachi just to spread the fake news.
As Pakistanis got over the initial surprise of apparently being in the middle of a civil war they knew nothing about, many slammed Indian Twitter users and media for spreading fake news and attempting to create divisions.
Pakistani social media responds to the false claims
Lawyer and activist Reema Omer called out Times Now for passing off “sensationalist fiction” as news.
Last week, Indian media falsely showed protests in GB as resistance against changing its constitutional status
And now, such sensationalist fiction is being passed of as “news”
Meanwhile, UN human rights chief is expressing concern at stifling of civil society voices in India https://t.co/3R7jV1ivD2
— Reema Omer (@reema_omer) October 21, 2020
Bina Shah, a writer and New York Times columnist, commented that she had just returned from doing her groceries and “couldn’t find” the civil war.
I live in Karachi, where I just did my groceries, visited the bakery, bought some clothes and came home.
If there's a civil war out there I couldn't find it. https://t.co/L4iFymMf48
— Bina Shah (@BinaShah) October 21, 2020
International social media users respond to India’s claims
Even non-Pakistanis couldn’t help but call out the Indian media for spreading lies.
Journalist Shaheen Sehbai simply claimed that Indian TV has gone “berserk”.
CNN INDIA GOES BERSERK: Look at TV screen of CNN News18 bottom left: Says "Clashes between Pak Army and Police continue overnight" What are they talking about. Fantasy Land, Day or Night Dreaming or Nightmares? So Pathetic for @CNN to continue being used for such nonsensical news pic.twitter.com/liJ7HwuxEC
— SHAHEEN SEHBAI (@SSEHBAI1) October 21, 2020
One user took the Indian media’s fantasies a bit further, saying “Captain America” had also been seen fighting on the streets of Karachi.
Perhaps attempting to further confuse the Indians, journalist Mubashir Zaidi suggested that the situation was “very serious” at Bombay Bakery (which is famous for its cakes) and Delhi Sweet House (famous for sweetmeats).
Finally, journalist and TV host Zarrar Khuhro saw the silver lining amid all that has happened in the past couple of days.
What roles can Facebook and Twitter play?
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide the public with a lot of information, but it is getting harder and harder to tell what is real and what is not. It would have been fairly simple for both social media websites to not only verify, but subsequently delete the news, all the while holding the Indian social media users responsible for misleading the national and international public.
As social media giants, both these companies must take up the initiative to filter out whatever is posted on their respective platforms, for not only does fake news against a country harm the sentiments of its people, but also portrays a false and rather degrading image internationally.