A lie, as they say, can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put on its shoes.
Earlier this week, news reports surfaced that the Modi government was slashing the school education budget by Rs. 3000 crore, ostensibly because of a funds crunch. The outrage was immediate — slashing of a school budget was thought to be a direct attack on India’s children. Critics of the government pounced on the “funds crunch” aspect — the news gave further credence to their belief that the economy was floundering and the government was bankrupt. And others began listing out all the other schemes that the government was wastefully spending money on, while it was abandoning its children.
Turns out, the entire outrage was based on a lie. Here’s how the left ecosystem carefully created a story — out of virtually nothing — in yet another attempt to malign the Modi governemnt.
1. The Print writes an article
The origin of the fake news lies in a Print article published on 9th December. It was titled “Modi govt likely to slash school education budget by Rs. 3000 crore citing funds crunch.”
Notice how the headline was cleverly worded. It only said that the government was “likely” to slash the budget — it did not say that a budget cut was actually going to happen. The Print quoted “highly placed sources” within the HRD Ministry to be able to substantiate its news.
But the Print had also contacted the official HRD Spokesperson, and they had categorically said that the news of the funds cut was “not true”. But the Print chose to hide this information away in the 7th paragraph, instead of mentioning it prominently in the headline.
2. The Print’s story gets picked up by other outlets
As soon as the Print came out with the story, it was spread by other left-leaning outlets. Each outlet gave its own spin in the headline. The Logical Indian said that the Modi government “may” cut the education budget by Rs. 3000 crore.
While Congress-owned National Herald chose to do away with the “may” part altogether. “Modi government to slash education budget by Rs. 3000 crore for 2019-20” was its headline, signalling that a budget cut was about to take place.
3. Opposition politicians spread the news
Soon enough, the “news” was picked up by opposition politicians. Priyanka Gandhi shared The Print article claiming that the BJP was slashing the education budget, while waiving the loans of friendly industrialists.
Arvind Kejriwal shared the news as well. “This is unfortunate. It will adversely affect education of our children. We may cut down on other things, but we should not reduce the education budget,” he said.
4. Distorted news is shared on Facebook groups and on WhatsApp
Once the news had the stamp of approval of prominent politicians, it spread like wildfire on the internet. Facebook pages conveniently did away with the “likely” aspect of the news, or the fact that the HRD Ministry had categorically denied that a budget cut was taking place. Facebook page Andh Bhakt shared the news with the sensational headline, “Shocking! Modi government cuts education budget by 3000 crores”, not mentioning at all that the HRD Ministry had denied the news.
And soon ordinary people began tweeting about how the government had already slashed the budget.
It didn’t take long for the news to be transformed from the government being “likely” to cut the budget, with a categorical denial from the HRD Ministry, to the Modi government having already cut the education budget. From Facebook and Twitter, the news spread to thousands of WhatsApp groups, and left millions of Indians convinced that the Modi government had indeed slashed the education budget.
The government finally woke up to the news that had spread, and issued a statement.”The story published is incorrect. There is no such proposal at the moment for the likely reduction in the budget of school education. The news item has been published without the verification of facts,” the statement said.
But by then the damage had already been done. Would one believe that this is a coincidence, and the fake news spiraled out of control? Or was it a deliberate plan to malign the government?
There were several ways the entire situation could have been avoided. The Print could have included the MRD’s statement that its report was not true in the headline of its original report, instead of hiding it away in the 7th paragraph. Opposition politicians could have waited for the news to be confirmed before sharing it to their millions of Twitter followers. And media outlets, including the Congress-owned National Herald, could have not implied that the budget cuts had already happened, when the original report itself carried a clarification by the relevant Ministry. But that wouldn’t have served their agenda of hitting the Modi government without basis, would it?