While the Indian media has been televising the farmers’ protests and various local and diasporic NGOs have been using their digital platforms to raise awareness; fake news and misinformation remain a serious issue for the protesters.
As a result, the farmers set up a specialist I.T. cell on 14 December to launch website kisanektamorcha.com and social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube under the name KisanEktaMorcha to tackle negative narratives and fake news.
In an interview with NDTV, Baljeet Singh Sandhu, head of the I.T cell at KisanEktaMorcha described it as “the need of the hour… to counter misinformation”.
“We’re running the farmers’ protest in a peaceful manner… but we are being shown as terrorists not as farmers”, he said.
He also told Times of India that the reason for creating these digital platforms was to shed light on the talks with the government: “the message going across to people about the meeting with the government was that farmers were being adamant and not agreeing to the changes proposed to the three farm acts. We needed to tell the truth”.
Fake News Surrounding the Farmers’ Protest
Opposition to the protests have led to fake footage and photos of the protesters being released online to link the movement to anti-nationalistic and terrorist organisations.
Around a month ago, Dushyant Kumar Gautam, BJP national general secretary and the party’s in-charge for Punjab and Uttarakhand said: “Slogans of Khalistan zindabad, Pakistan zindabad are being raised there today. Slogans are being raised in favour of anti-national forces”, to Indian Express.
However, fact checks by India Today proved the anti-nationalistic photos that went viral online to be old photos used to defame the farmers’ protests.
Twitter itself flagged a tweet by BGP’s I.T. cell head Amit Malviya’s on the farmers’ protest which showed a policeman swinging a baton at a farmer but not touching him, as ‘manipulated media’ earlier this month.
KisanEktaMorcha: Tackling Misinformation
In less than two weeks KisanEktaMorcha have amassed 1.2 million followers on their YouTube channel, alongside 310.7k followers on their Facebook page, 180k followers on their Instagram. And 123.4k on Twitter .
The I.T. cell consists of five people including a 16-year-old from Punjab who has been camping at the Singhu border with his whole family and “is an expert in Snapchat and uploads stories of the protest”, Mr Sandhu told The Quint.
#DigitalKissan is not just an initiative being implemented by the young farmers however with the aged majority also being trained to quickly learn new social media skills to help the cause.
Mr Sandhu and his team printed out banners, posters and t-shirts with QR codes on them to circulate the social media platforms across the 20km stretch of land occupied by the protesters in Delhi to get as many people online as possible.
“We are using Facebook and WhatsApp for the first time. We keep checking the updates even while we are listening to speeches of our leaders,” said Harjeet Singh, a farmer from Tikri border told The Tribune.
KisanEktaMorcha uses each of their platforms to keep the public updated and informed on the protests in real time via daily Facebook lives and Instagram videos.
Farmers and members of supporting organisations educate the public on what the new bills passed in September would mean for the farmers and why they are protesting against them.
They also respond to the rumours online in segments tackling each opposing view separately.
One of their best performing videos on YouTube involves Jagjit Singh Dallewal, a farmer leader who responds to a speech about the new agricultural bills by PM Narendra Modi point-by-point to relay the message of the farmers.
Issues Faced by the I.T Cell
Mr Sandhu has also highlighted the issues being faced by the I.T cell.
He published a video on Instagram to raise awareness on fake pages using KisanEktaMorcha’s name to raise funds from supporting communities.
He also addressed how Facebook unpublished their page while they were carrying out a Facebook live on Sunday 20 December for “going against” its “Community Standards on spam”.
The page was restored in less than three hours, and in a statement to Gadgets 360, a Facebook spokesperson said: “As per our review, our automated systems found an increased activity on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/kisanektamorcha and flagged it as spam, which violates our Community Standards.
“We restored the page in less than three hours when we became aware of the context”.
With the new I.T. cell the farmers are able to protest the new bills not only physically but also intellectually.
The young and the old now have access to the rest of the world and are able to inform their supporters on what’s happening while providing counter-arguments to their opposition.