Faux pas hits fake news alert

Maharashtra’s awareness posters get phone numbers wrong, list railway police

It was an earnest effort to stop fake news, but it made some wrong connections. The Maharashtra government’s poster told people, “don’t fall for rumours and take the law into your hands,” put out as part of its campaign against lynching. The public was asked to dial the helpline numbers listed, to report rumour and fake news.

When the posters went up, the phones that started ringing incessantly were those of some Government Railway Police (GRP) constables. They were hounded by calls from complainants from across the State last week.

“I’ve been flooded with calls from people who want to report rumours found on WhatsApp. I have convinced them to try other helpline numbers. I have informed the government to remove my number from the posters immediately,” said GRP constable Santosh Dhanvate.

The posters urge citizens to be vigilant against fake news and rumours, which could spark off violence and kill people. “If you develop doubts based on a rumour, don’t take the law into your hands. Beware of the information floating on social media. Don’t fall for it as it may claim someone’s life,” the poster states.

It was “an inadvertent mistake and a printing error” that resulted in wrong numbers getting published, senior officials said. The plan was to provide the GRP control room numbers since there is no separate facility to report rumours and fake news. But mobile numbers of constables were printed instead, officials said. “This is unfortunate and we have withdrawn the posters,” said a senior State government official.

Maharashtra’s rural areas have recently witnessed a spate of attacks sparked off by rumours and misinformation spread through WhatsApp. Earlier this month, five people were killed in Dhule after rumours on child kidnappers spread. A total of 23 people were arrested.

Special Inspector General (cyber crime) Brijesh Singh said the government put up about 1,000 hoardings across many cities to create awareness. Also, one crore messages were sent out asking people to be alert to inflammatory content of online messages.

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