WhatsApp has recently faced a lot of flak over the spread of viral fake news and rumours on their platform, although the company claimed they have taken several steps to put a check on viral messages and keep their users safe. 

Not only WhatsApp, but other social media companies have also been asked by the Indian government to be responsible and take efforts to check misuse of their platform. But how effective are these steps? Take for example WhatsApp service called Checkpoint Tipline. To fight fake news, the platform is encouraging common users to send messages, images, video and text in various languages on a specific number and the system will verify the message contents and reply to the user if its indeed true, false, misleading or disputing. 

Such moves are welcome. Meanwhile, some viral messages are doing the rounds on various platforms. So I thought let us fact check the claims the old school way.

Also read: Rs 800-crore scam by BJP? Check if Congress peddled fake news

Claim 1: India finished 119 out of 150 countries in the World Hunger Index of 2018

Fact check: Claim is false

A keen look at the Global Hunger Index results, which can be accessed here, can verify that India’s GHI rank was 99 in 2014 and 93 in 2015. India stood at 100th position in 2017 and 103rd rank in 2018.  India is fighting hunger effectively and we have come a long way. From a score of 46.2 in 1992 to 38.2 in 2000 to 35.6 in 2008 to 31.4 in 2017, India has fought chronic hunger. In fact, in 2018 we improved our score by 0.3 points and reached 31.1, but yet our rank saw a fall. This is because its quite possible that some other country performed better than us and that’s how ‘index’ are supposed to work. The Narendra Modi government has special schemes and programmes to ensure nutrition for children. Lakhs of them are beneficiaries of these important and honestly implemented ideas and hence we are seeing an improvement in the numbers.

Claim 2: 7 of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world are now in India (WHO data)

Fact check: Misleading

We have learnt it in our schools that pollution is primarily of four types: air, water, soil and noise pollution. The article which termed seven of our cities as most polluted checked only the air pollution levels and concluded. This is a misleading methodology to term an entire city as polluted. Before we delve into reasons, most of the cities ranked in the top 10 are in North India and everybody is aware as to why the particulate matter is critical there: stubble burning. The Prime Minister himself has stated that the Centre is finding a solution for this. He urged the scientist community to find some solutions and urged the farmers to refrain from burning stubble. Furthermore, the government has worked extremely hard to get our cities cleaned. Was cleanliness ever a motto for the previous government? Half truths are being used to malign the entire government machinery. 

Claim 3: India is now suffering from its highest unemployment rate in 45 years (NSSO data)

Fact check: Fake

The NSSO report was “leaked” and was not verified. NITI Aayog, the premier government body has clarified that it was a draft report which is still being processed and that the data in the report is not finalised.

I would like to stretch this by an example. If a person is ill, do we give them government-approved medicines or the ones which are in the trial stage? 

Regarding the Jobs issue in India? One can refer to a study titled “Towards a Payroll Reporting in India” by Prof. Pulak Ghosh(Professor, IIM Bangalore)&Dr. Soumya Kanti Ghosh (Group Chief Economic Adviser, SBI) which busts the entire myth. There are tonnes of studies and reports which dismiss this jobs issue.

Claim 4: India now has the highest income inequality in 80 years of its existence (Credit Suisse Report 2018). Ironically, things were statistically better during the British Raj and World War II

Fact check: False

Under the Modi government, per capita income has grown 45% in just 4 years. In 2014-15, an average Indian earned Rs 86,647 per year which has risen to 1.25 lakh in 2018-19. Globally it is a phenomenon that top 1% people control the maximum amount of wealth in the country. Income disparity may, and I say may lead to social unrest and crime. The current government has worked with a motto of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” and has touched upon the lives of every community in India. Moreover, the maximum benefit of the work has gone to the poor. The rural electrification, gas, homes (awas), LED bulbs, small loans, bank accounts etc are all meant to remove the gap between the rich and the poor. Only an intellectually dishonest person can deny these things. Narendra Modi has attempted to remove disaffection and worked hard to keep the social fabric of the nation intact.

Also read: Lutyens journalist, others spread fake news against Republic TV, hint at Army rebellion

Claim 5: India has become world's most dangerous country for women (Thomas Reuters Survey) 

Fact check: False

People need to understand the difference between a survey and a report based on data and facts. The ministry of women and child development has termed this news as an ‘opinion poll’ and called it misleading. I request everyone not to believe such stories which tarnish the image of India. Here is the truth

PS: I don’t say we are the safest, we have a lot of ground to cover but I can confidently say we are not the most dangerous.  

Claim 6: Kashmiri youth joining militancy is highest in 10 years (Indian Army data)

Fact check: Misleading

Contrary to the claim, the number of Kashmiri terrorists killed in a single year is highest in 10 years. Our security forces have killed more than 250 militants and arrested around 54. Moreover, four terrorists have surrendered. 

Youth joining militancy will be blamed on the government? Seriously?

Claim 7: Indians farmers suffered the worst price crash in 18 years (WPI Data)

Fact check: False

Narendra Modi has delivered a low inflation, high growth economy. For example, the food inflation from July till November 2013 was consistently in double digits. Who bore the brunt? The poor and the downtrodden who can’t afford it when essential food items become expensive. It affects their nutrition level. 

The current government has kept the food as well as the wholesale price index (WPI) in check and very low. Hence what we see today is consumers aren’t eroding their savings due to the hidden tax called inflation. For the entire set of data please refer here

Does it mean that farmers’ income is being ignored? No. This government has taken the minimum support price (MSP) to 1.5 times the cost. This is a historic move and aims to double the farmers’ income by 2022. So you might wonder how are they giving more to the farmer and still keeping the pricing in check. The answer is simple: efficiency. 

Have you read about opening up of agriculture markets? A farmer today can sell the produce anywhere and doesn’t have to compulsorily go through the agricultural produce market committees. This has given the farmers new independence in the real sense.

Claim 8: The Indian rupee was Asia's worst performing currency in the last 18 months (several reports by international agencies/ newspapers)

Fact check: Misleading

Foreigners bought $3.3 billion worth of shares through March 18, accounting for more than half the $5.6 billion of inflows year-to-date, and raised holdings of bonds by $1.4 billion in March 2019. In 2018, India saw more than $38 billion of inbound deals compared with China’s $32 billion. This is specifically in the mergers & acquisitions sector. In five weeks the currency went from worst performing to best performing. How? 

Claim 9: Foreign funding for political parties and organised lobbying has been legalised, paving the way for unaccounted corruption in public office and the danger of influence of international governments/ corporations (Finance Bill 2017)

Fact check: False

Via the Finance Act, 2016, in section 236 “the 26th September, 2010”, was replaced by “the 5th August, 1976” and this change has caused a big furore across the country. Before I delve into it, let me explain a bit of history. Foreign contributions are not allowed to be taken by the political parties. This is to ensure that they are not influenced by outside forces. Vedanta and Sterlite, two companies had made a donation to both the BJP and the Congress and a PIL was filed that these two companies, being owned by a foreign holding company, the donations are taken by both the parties were illegal. The Delhi high court held that Vedanta and Sterlite were indeed “foreign companies” under the Companies Act, 1956 and payments were indeed ‘foreign source’ as contemplated under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976. However, Vedanta and Sterlite were registered in India, were doing business in India, earning revenue and profits in India, had operations in India, had employees etc. Hence this was not the original intent of the law. It was originally envisaged to stop foreign influence and so to correct the anomaly in the drafting and bring the original intent of the law back this particular amendment was brought forth.

Claim 10: The current PM is the first PM in India's history to hold no public press conferences. 

Fact Check: Misleading

Press conferences are not the only way to communicate with the masses or take “tough” questions, whatever that means.

Before that let me tell you a bit about the Indian mainstream media. Not all but a vast majority of our journalists are not subject matter experts and are generally ill-prepared, have a high ego, have a political leaning, have agendas, are known to indulge in corrupt activities and are generally low on the understanding of serious issues. Why would a Prime Minister talk to such people? The PM has given interviews time and again to many channels. Please search for the same and you will find it.

Coming to how the PM communicates:

1.  Prime Minister portal: All queries, issues, grievances are addressed via the portal. There is rarely a person who hasn’t received a reply. Isn’t that communication and taking action?

2.  Narendra Modi app: The Prime Minister keeps posting updates, schedules his speeches and takes suggestions from commoners and encourages people to take part in governance issues

3. Mann Ki Baat: Millions of people listen to the PM on All India Radio. He receives letters from lakhs of people and he appraises them about what work he is doing.

4. Letters: The PMO apparently write and replies to thousands of letters every month. He addresses the real “voice of the nation”

5. Social media: Tag the PM and get a solution to your problem and/or share your idea. How many times have you seen this in the past 5 years? So why do you need the mainstream media now when you can interact with the PM directly.

The mainstream media is under pain because their relevance is lost. It is only they and they themselves who are responsible for it. Today journalism is dependent on very few good people who are holding the fort, the rest are just products of ego, elitism, non-expert loud noise and nepotism. The PM has better jobs to do and the “voice of the nation, the questions of the nation” are reaching him. 

Thus you can see the responses to this viral WhatsApp messages are long and the points in the messages are nothing but half-truths. They are picked up from curated news items, which makes them seem true to the average user. As can be seen here everybody seems to be believing the viral WhatsApp forward just because there were news articles. It would be interesting to see how social media platforms tackle this problem.