dd India buzzes with fake news of 'civil war' in Pakistan

India buzzes with fake news of 'civil war' in Pakistan

Published: 23 Oct 2020 Updated: 24 Oct 2020   

Online Desk

Fake news has been widely circulating on Indian sites and social media this week, claiming a civil war had broken out in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

The reports emerged after local Pakistani media said troops had kidnapped the provincial police chief to force him to arrest a top opposition leader.

The story was quickly picked up over the border in Pakistan's arch-rival, India, where reports went much further - saying clashes between the police and the army had resulted in the deaths of many Karachi police officers and tanks had been seen on the streets.

A fake video circulating on Twitter even claimed to show some of the alleged unrest.

In reality, none of it was true.

Many local police and opposition members had been angered by events surrounding the politician's arrest - but there was no violence.

Pakistan and India are bitter enemies and it's well known they have long used propaganda against each other - they have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

Last year, Facebook blocked networks linked to Pakistan's military and a global network of pro-Indian fake websites and think-tanks was exposed, which had been aimed at influencing decision-making in Europe.

But what's notable this time is the number of verified accounts and apparently reputable news outlets that ended up putting out news that was utterly false, to millions of followers and readers.

'Fighting' in a place that doesn't exist

Tempers seemed to be simmering down when Pakistan's army chief ordered an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the arrest on Tuesday of Safdar Awan, the son-in-law of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

A day earlier there had been a major rally against the government of Pakistan's current Prime Minister Imran Khan in Karachi, an opposition stronghold which is the capital of Sindh province.

But later on Tuesday night a hitherto unknown account tweeted that a fight between troops and police had broken out, with tanks on the streets of Karachi and at least five casualties.

It's unclear who sent this initial tweet. Despite extensive digging by the BBC, it was not possible to establish who operates the Twitter account named @drapr007.

An hour later, the account tweeted again, this time saying: "#BREAKING: Heavy firefight between Pak Army and Sindh Police is going on in Gulshan e Bagh area of #Karachi..."

Those familiar with Karachi would know there is no area there by that name - but most readers would not.

Nor had there been any fighting, or tanks seen on the streets.

However, news of the "civil war" then spread rapidly. A deadly blast in Karachi which turned out to have been caused by a gas leak added fuel to the rumours.

They were picked up by verified individuals and major Indian media outlets such as CNN18, Zee News and India Today.

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