Busting fake news is Mamata Banerjee’s key battle strategy for 2021 polls

Updated on Sep 12, 2020 07:54 AM IST

Fake news and misleading social media posts have emerged as a big challenge.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has asked the police force to focus on tackling cybercrime.(PTI PHoto)
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has asked the police force to focus on tackling cybercrime.(PTI PHoto)
Hindustan Times, Kolkata | ByJoydeep Thakur | Edited by Abhinav Sahay

With the crucial 2021 assembly polls approaching, the Mamata Banerjee government in West Bengal has started preparing for a battle against fake news and rumours that may be circulated through social networking sites and micro-blogging sites to project the ruling Trinamool Congress in a bad light.

The chief minister had recently asked the Kolkata Police and West Bengal Police to strengthen their cyber-crime cells to tackle complaints of cybercrime at highest priority. The state criminal investigation department (CID) has already come up with a cyber-forensics and digital evidence examination laboratory.

“Cybercrime has increased. We have to strengthen the cybercrime cell. All police stations need to be more alert when it comes to cybercrime. There should not be any dilly-dallying. Tackling cyber-crime is our priority,” Banerjee had said while addressing a program to observe Police Day on September 8.

The warning came after a social media post, saying that the state government has imposed several restrictions during Durga Puja, was circulated. A few persons were arrested after the chief minister directed the police to crack down.

During the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and polls in four state assemblies, the election commission of India (ECI) spotted more than 154 instances of fake news or misinformation on social media platforms. In the last five months alone more than 250 persons were arrested from across West Bengal for posting and forwarding allegedly harmful fake news and rumours.

In West Bengal just before the Lok Sabha polls, an entire newspaper page of a vernacular daily was photo-shopped to spread fake news in which Mamata Banerjee was quoted saying that she would show how to make Hindus cry if she wins all 42 seats in the state.

“The chief minister has asked to explore options if students from IIT and various universities could be roped in to do internships at the cyber-crime cells of the state police. All police stations have been asked to tackle all complaints of cybercrime and potentially harmful fake news on a priority basis,” said a senior police officer.

The chief minister had recently launched a veiled attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell hinting that it was behind some such fake posts and rumors.

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“We are not fighting a lollipop match. We are fighting an election and we would do whatever it takes to fight the BJP, both on the ground and in the virtual world, to counter their fake new and rumours,” said Derek O’Brien TMC’s Rajya Sabha leader and national spokesperson.

On August 31, the TMC had sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, complaining that hundreds of accounts of TMC supporters on the social networking site and on WhatsApp have been removed. In another letter, the party wrote that the blocking of pages and accounts points to the link between Facebook and BJP.

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“Mamata Banerjee knows very well that she is losing ground and that’s why she is coming up with new ways to harass and implicate BJP workers and supporters. Our party workers are being either implicated in false cases or murdered. But none of her tactics would work as people of Bengal have come to see her true face,” said Rahul Sinha, national secretary of the BJP.

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