Such is the dystopian state of Indian journalism that fact-checkers themselves seem to be spreading the most fake news.
Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair yesterday retweeted a tweet which attempted to show how a Muslim man had come to the rescue of a dead Hindu after he’d been abandoned by his family. “Mohammed Yunus’s friend Anubhav Sharma died of Covid in Muzaffarnagar. His own family members didn’t come forward to perform his last rites, so his Muslim friend came forward to perform them as per Hindu rituals. Those who’ve been playing the politics of religion will have to pay dearly,” the tweet said.
The claim was particularly egregious — it simultaneously demonized Hindus by showing that they weren’t taking care of their dead during Covid, but also cast Muslims as secular saviours in their time of need. And fact-checker Mohammad Zubair amplified this claim among his nearly 3 lakh Twitter followers.
But as it happens so often with Mohammad Zubair, the claim was completely fake. When journalists contacted the deceased man’s family, they revealed that they had very much performed the last rites. Mohammed Yunus, the man in the picture, had been the driver and friend of the deceased, and had been present at the cremation. A photo taken during the rites had then been spread with this false claim. The news that Mohammad Zubair was shared was also fake on multiple counts — man didn’t even have Covid, and he had died of a separate condition.
As this was revealed, and Swarajya journalist Swati Goel Sharma shared a telephonic conversation with the deceased’s brother, the fake news was exposed. At this point, Mohammed Zubair merely shared a clarification. “Spoken to Sharad Sharma and Md Younus. They said Abhinav died a normal death & family was present at the last rites…apology for fanning a misleading news of Amar Ujala published on April 26,” said a tweet that he retweeted.
This isn’t the first time that Mohammed Zubair has weaponized his fact-checker credentials to spread misinformation. Earlier this year, when donations for the Ram Mandir were on, he’d shared a 4-year-old news clipping of a sadhu collecting donations and then running away, and pretended it was recent, in a possible bid to spread confusion among those donating money to the temple. Just last week, Alt News had published a fake fact-check on a The Daily Switch’s post. As we’d shown in a subsequent fact-check of the fact-check, the post we’d shared was completely accurate.