On being schooled on the veracity of the tweet, Madhu took down her tweet and apologised.
We live at a time when chatter from the virtual world influences our actions and opinions in the real world. A suggestion by a renowned social media influencer about a ‘good skin care product’ or ‘happening bar in town’ can make us go chasing after both. And that’s why online influencers, who are people with credibility within their industries and enjoy a huge number of followers, must be vigilant about what they post, because an inappropriate tweet or retweeting a tweet spewing fake news can, both, lead to chaos and wreak havoc on their reputation.
Professor and author, Madhu Kishwar, who has over two million followers on Twitter, learned this the hard way when she retweeted a tweet that claimed that journalist Rana Ayyub supported child rapists. The post was already doing the rounds on social media, and the author posted it, perhaps, without much thought about its veracity. However, the information peddled by the tweet was fake, and the journalist herself pointed out this fact by sharing the tweet with the caption, “This fake photo-shopped tweet that shows me advocating child rapists in the name of Islam is being circulated yet again all over social media. From the likes of Ashok Pandit to the entire right-wing ecosystem is sharing this tweet. How sick are you guys !” Apparently, the original tweet against Rana was tweeted by an unverified Republic TV handle, but the account did not exist at the time of writing this article. Also, according to reports doing the rounds online, the original tweet was posted in 2018, but since the screenshot of the origin
al tweet is going viral and the image is cropped, there is no way to verify the date.
On being schooled on the veracity of the tweet, Madhu took down her tweet and apologised. Her tweet said, “My apologies for having trusted a very eminent person who sent me fake tweet about Rana Ayyub. I may have a 1000 differences with her but I would not use any fake information against the #BreakUpIndiaBrigade (sic).” But it was not enough for Rana, who threatened to take the former to court. Rana replied to the apology saying, “Don’t care about your apology Madhu Kishwar. This was a deliberate act and has unleashed vile threats on my timeline. See you in Court !”
Madhu wasn’t the only one to bite the malicious bait as filmmaker Ashoke Pandit also shared the same screenshot of the tweet and deleted it soon after. When questioned about the same, Ashoke accepts his mistake and says, “I totally accept my mistake. I didn’t realise it was a fraud account and I deleted it immediately. And it’s a right attitude that we should be really careful about these things because sometimes we get carried away and it’s for all sides.” Though the filmmaker accepts that he should have verified the news, he heaps blame on the account that originally posted the fake news. He says, “Action should be taken against such an account. Any Twitter handle that is not real, should be subjected to some kind of action. It becomes difficult for people to analyse whether it’s true or false. People, don’t see if it (the account) is verified or not. When you’re in the flow, you don’t go into detail.”
But is apologising and hastily deleting tweets enough, especially if you have a large follower base? “Influencers are blessed with a huge number of followers and clout. People follow them for inspiration and value their opinion. When an influencer participates in spreading fake news it leads to backlash not just from followers but the overall social media universe. It adds to the pain, agony, and trauma for the ones who are at the receiving end of the fake news outbreak,” says Hitesh Rajwani, CEO of Social Samosa and adds that influencers should be extra careful about what they post for the sake of their followers. He also talks about how deleting a tweet does not undo the damage already done and that the option to delete a tweet can sometimes lead to people acting irresponsibly. “It is easy for people to share and express on social media and yes, the option to delete posts also gives them the leeway to act irresponsibly. Though woke influencers own up to their mistake and delete the content as and when they realize, but in most of the cases, an apology is too little too late and the damage cannot be undone,” he concludes.