Yesterday, as the Jamia Millia protests intensified, a shocking bit of news came to the fore — that two Jamia Millia students had died after the retaliatory action by the Delhi Police.
It’s impossible to pinpoint where the news originated from, but the first mention of Twitter seems to be at 8:47 pm last night by Twitter user atti_cus, whose bio said that he’s worked for NDTV and The Caravan. “At least one student is confirmed dead,” he tweeted without citing a source.
At 10:58 pm, the News Editor of Congress-owned newspaper National Herald Ashlin Mathew raised the stakes — he claimed that by then, two students were dead. “Two casualties confirmed..A boy and a girl,” he tweeted, while adding the hashtag “SackAmitShah.”
By then, the news had spread to WhatsApp and Facebook groups, and was being shared by several accounts. By 1 am, a picture of the “dead” student, Shakir, also emerged.
The news was shared thousands of times on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, and led to an outpouring of anger. Last night, crowds gathered at the Delhi police headquarters protesting against the supposed brutality.
But the entire narrative was built on a lie.
It was revealed today that no Jamia Milia Islamia student had died during the protest. The announcement was made by the Jamia Milia VC. “There has been a strong rumour that two students died, we deny this totally, none of our students died. About 200 people were injured of which many were our students,” said Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia, Najma Akhtar. The “dead” student, Shakir, has also been confirmed to be alive.
But the damage was already done — all through last night, hundreds of thousands of people believed that 2 students had died in the violence, which led to a outpouring of anger on streets and on social media. How did the news editor of the Congress-owned paper National Herald confirm at 10:58 pm that two students had died? These are questions that must be answered if India is to be able to collectively fight the menace of fake news.