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Social media under scanner in Telangana, top cop warns ‘rabble rousers’ of strict action

The Telangana government is keeping a close eye on social media for “rabble rousers” who are circulating or posting fake news or “inappropriate content”. Telangana Director General of Police (DGP) M Mahender Reddy warned that action will be taken against such persons “for inflaming emotions of the public”.

A few days back Reddy tweeted in this regard and said, “Its been observed that people are misusing the social media platforms during this lockdown. Public are requested not to post/circulate any inappropriate content in social media. Telangana police is closely watching social media for the gossip monger/rabble rousers. Stringent action will be initiated against them for inflaming emotions of the public who are already under pressure.”

Recently with the second surge of Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, there has been an increase in misinformation and fake news in Telangana. Reddy’s message comes in view of a video from Gujarat that was allegedly being circulated by a few social media handles claiming that the incident happened in Hyderabad.

The message comes at a time when misinformation regarding Covid-19 and related issues is rife and both the Indian government and local administrations have been up in arms against it. While misinformation has to be tackled and nipped at the bud, several curbs issued by local and the Indian administrations have raised questions regarding the curbing of free speech.

For instance in April 2021, while complying to requests made by the Indian government, Twitter censored 52 tweets that mostly criticised the country’s handling of the second surge of Covid-19. In the same month, local bodies such as the Jabalpur district administration in Madhya Pradesh, imposed curbs on pandemic-related posts. Indore administration too placed restrictions on comments and forwards related to coronavirus on social media.

Spurt in fake news in Telangana

While speaking to MediaNama, director of the Digital Media wing of Telangana’s Information Technology, Electronics and Communication department Konatham Dileep said, “Circulation of fake news on social media platforms have increased since the onset of the second surge of Covid-19 and the lockdown. These fake news are two in nature — communal and Covid-19 misinformation. There is already a charged environment due to the pandemic and the lockdown. Now, these kinds of fake news can lead to other issues related to public order.”

The Digital Media wing has been working with Telangana Police to identify such fake news circulating on social media. Upon identifying, the police department is alerted. In the coming days, the IT department plans to tie up with more fact-checkers to keep an eye on such content.

A few days back a fake circular issued in the name of Telangana’s director of public health Dr GS Rao was being circulated. A police complaint has been lodged regarding the matter.

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In April, a fake government order was circulated on social media which read that the Telangana government had initiated lockdown in the State. Chief secretary Somesh Kumar’s office had to clarify the matter in a tweet, which said, “An unsigned document claiming to be a GO issued on 1st April providing for closure of shops and commercial establishments is circulating on social media. It is clarified that the document is FAKE and NO such GO was issued by the Telangana Government.” A chartered accountant was arrested by the Hyderabad police a few days later in this regard.

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