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Kerala floods: trust only the information coming from official sources

Rumours impede rescue operations, putting lives at risk. The Army has announced a number where you can alert people about fake news. Other relief agencies would do well to have a similar facility, at least till the rescue operations are not complete.

editorials Updated: Aug 20, 2018 18:35 IST
Hindustan Times
fake news
Rumours such as complete power cut across Kerala, the Navy rescue helicopter’s supposed phone number and cancellation of Onam have been doing the rounds, creating panic(AFP)

In a crisis of the scale of the Kerala floods, the primary concern for the authorities and civil society is the rescue operation, not dealing with misinformation and deliberate dissemination of fake and malicious news. But the state, where at least 239 people have died because of the floods, is having to tackle fake news which is creating problems for its citizens as well as authorities.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had to tweet last week to dispel the rumour that the 123-year-old Mullaperiyar dam is about to burst and that it would wash away many districts. Just last night, the Indian Army clarified that an imposter in Army uniform is spreading disinformation in a video message about relief efforts. The man in the video criticises the chief minister for not handing over the rescue efforts completely to the Indian Army. The video instantly went viral on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.

In another viral audio clip that has its text posted on a person’s Facebook page, a man is heard saying that most of the people who were impacted in the disaster are from well-to-do families. According to reports, the man in the clip also casts aspersions over fund utilisation from the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, and requests people to contribute to “organisations like Seva Bharathi” instead.

Rumours of a complete power blackout across the state, the Navy rescue helicopter’s supposed phone number and the cancellation of Onam festivities have been creating panic. Among the more sinister rumours in a state which rarely witnesses communal strife is that churches are helping only Christians. In fact, reports suggest, churches, temples, and madrasas have come forward in large numbers to help the stranded.

However, the people in Kerala have used the same tools that were used to spread misinformation for coordination purposes and for disseminating authentic information about the availability of items for daily use and the location of stranded people. This is remarkable in a time of such stress.

But rumours impede rescue operations, putting lives at risk. The state should deal with such rumour mongers sternly. Citizens, for their part, should be vigilant about such outrageous claims, and trust only information coming from official sources. The Army has announced a number where you can alert people about fake news. Other relief agencies would do well to have a similar facility so as not to hamper the rescue operations.

First Published: Aug 20, 2018 18:35 IST