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T.N. police better equipped to tackle misinformation

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An inspector addresses migrant workers in Chennai to dispel their fears. 
| Photo Credit: R. RAGU

A video of a Tamil-speaking man abusing and assaulting a few migrant workers travelling on train went viral last month. No migrant worker filed a complaint with the police, who were clueless about the train in which the incident happened. After studying the sequences, the railway police traced the abuser to Villupuram.

While the issue seemed to end there, rumours spread on social media on March 1 and misinformation spread in States like Bihar that Hindi-speaking workers were attacked by Tamils in the State. The situation worsened when more fake videos circulated on social media. The police acted quickly, assured the migrants of their safety and brought the situation under control.

DGP C. Sylendra Babu told The Hindu that rumours spread thick and fast. Yet, the police have gained experience in tackling rumours. Now they know the measures to be taken to counter fake messages, how to coordinate with the police in other States, and how to convince members of the public that there are no untoward incidents as claimed in the messages. The social media teams have been trained with the help of social media intermediary firms and officials know how messages of misinformation are trending and how to trace them. “We will do diligent and advance monitoring and take pre-emptive action,” he said.

The police became quite active on the social media after the violence on a school campus in Kallakurichi district, triggered by WhatsApp messages following the death of a girl student. There are 37 social media monitoring cells in the districts and nine in cities. In the recent issue, notice was sent to all newspapers, YouTube channels and Twitter. Almost 70 posts were taken down immediately, including a post by the official handle of the BJP’s Bihar unit.

Mr. Babu said he had put out a video initially, saying it was all misinformation. Further, the police warned that those who spread these messages would be prosecuted. Officers were posted to liaison with the Bihar police and Chief Minister. Incidentally, the Assembly was in session and the timely denial and clarification issued by Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, the police and industrialists helped to ease the tempers.

The services of all Hindi-speaking police officers in Tamil Nadu were used. “We shared videos of the message in Hindi so that they [the migrant workers] had no doubts about what we were saying,” he said. Since Holi was nearing, the migrant workers started returning home en bloc. A good number of them bought the misinformation. The police spoke to the employers and asked them to talk with the workers. Police patrols were intensified and the Collectors and the Superintendents of Police went to the field to restore normalcy.

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