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A ‘digital army’ of over 367,000 volunteers to take on fake news in Uttar Pradesh

The UP Police DGP said the move the initiative will counter fake news being spread on social media by anti-social elements.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2018 07:41 IST
Rohit K Singh
Rohit K Singh
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
fake news,Whatsapp rumours,Uttar Pradesh
Relatives and neighbours of a man who was beaten to death in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh, in June 2018. UP police started an initiative to curb fake news on social media that lead to such incidents.(HT File Photo)

The Uttar Pradesh police will raise a contingent of over 367,000 digital volunteers to counter fake news on social media platforms that is “creating a law-and-order problem” and “disturbing communal harmony” in the state, director general of police OP Singh said on Thursday.

The DGP said that this “digital army” will comprise 250 volunteers from each of the 1,469 police stations zones across the state.

“It will counter fake news being spread on social media by anti-social elements. Rumours incite people of different communities and create a law-and-order problem,” Singh told reporters. “The plan has been initiated in view of the deaths of innocent people across the state as well the country due to false news and rumours on WhatsApp and other social media platforms,” he added.

The DGP said the move by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led UP government followed the Union government writing to messaging platform WhatsApp to take action to curb fake news.

Fake videos and rumours of child-lifting circulated via WhatsApp have triggered lynchings in at least eight states this year .

Earlier this month, WhatsApp listed measures to prevent the spread of false information in India. “We’re horrified by these terrible acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly to the very important issues you have raised,” it said in a letter to the Union government.

On Thursday, the UP Police uploaded a “digital volunteer form” on its website for the selection of digital volunteers and has formed committees headed by the state’s 75 district police chiefs -- usually a superintendent of police or a senior superintendent of police.

The selection committees will also include additional SPs, circle officers and station houses officers (SHOs) of the police stations. Singh said the volunteers will include at least two people from each village, town, ward and locality. “They should be influential, respected and peace-loving members of the society with a clean image,” he added.

The plan is to appoint school principals, teachers, retired government servants, police pensioners, former and sitting legislators, journalists, activists of social organisations, former and si- ting village pradhans, members of block development councils, rural health workers, doctors, advocates, fair price shops owners, priests, clerics, businessmen, civil defence personnel, home guards and special police officers (drafted by the local police as a part of community policing).

Explaining how the network will work, the DGP said police stations will create their own WhatsApp groups, which will be connected with the groups including district officers. “These will, in turn, be connected to the group monitored by the DGP headquarters,” he said. The volunteers will not be paid for being a part of the “digital army”.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court condemned mob lynching incidents across the country and urged Parliament to enact a law to deal with the crime.

Samajwadi Party spokesman Abdul Hafiz Gandhi said fake news was a menace and social media had to be more responsible to curb violence. “If the government takes any initiative to check fake news, we have no objection to it. Socially responsible and trusted people should be roped in to curb fake news. It’s a very sensitive issue,” he said.

Cyber security expert Rakshit Tandon appreciated the Uttar Pradesh police move, “One can counter the trouble created by fake news only by using the same platform,” he said.

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 07:40 IST