Chapter Fifty-four: The assault on disinformation fighters and relentless efforts for digital inclusion

This week on TypeRight, we focus on two stories continuing from last week. The government attack on journalists and fact-checkers who are fighting disinformation, and DEF's work in connecting the margins in Mumbai and Kashmir.

When last week's chapter was about to be published, the news had just broken out of the arrest of India's known fact-checker, journalist, and co-founder of Alt-News, Muhammed Zubair. Since then, the story has further developed, revealing a lot of problems with democracy, and privacy that companies promise.

Zubair's arrest then was on charges of insulting religious sentiments, for a 2018 tweet which was a screenshot from an even older movie, reported and complained by a twitter account that was less than a year old.

The account that reported it, reported to become non-existent; but again reemerged.

The incident has lead to widespread criticism nationally and internationally:

Further adding to the controversy, as the hearing for Zubair's bail was being held in court, the Police seems to have leaked the order to the media much before its actual declaration.

This seems to be a lot of extra effort in persecuting a journalist. Here is what Zubair had mentioned in an earlier interview: "They cannot file a complaint against me for writing a story because we have facts with us in our stories (…) They cannot attack us on the story that we’ve written, so they are looking to attack me for any other unrelated tweet”

And that is what seems to have happened. As a reminder of Zubair's work that has been irking the authorities as he speaks truth to power, and fact-checks those who spread disinformation, here are some of the notable interventions (sourced from Maktoob Media and translated):

  1. Exposed the genocidal calls at Haridwar's conference that lead to the arrest of Yati Narasingahand.

  1. Reported on Nupur Sharma's insult of religious minorities that led to international condemnation from over fifteen countries, and ultimately, Nupur's suspension from BJP.

  1. Put out the video of Bajrang Muni Das who had called upon his people, in a public speech, to rape Muslim women. The police who had looked upon while he made the claims were now forced to arrest him after public outcry. The FIR mentions his calling the Muni as a hate-monger as one of the charges against Zubair.

  1. Was instrumental in finding the people behind BulliBai and SulliDeals that did online auctions of Muslim women. This led to their arrest, although the courts were later lenient.

  1. Found out the person behind the fake ID that publicly threatened to rape the ten month old daughter of Virat Kohli, captain of the Indian Cricket Team, for supporting Mohammed Shami. The culprit, Srinivas, was arrested by Hyderabad Police.

  1. Fact-checked the photos spread by Yogi Government ads that claimed to be roads from UP, and exposed them to be actually from China and France. The government later had to retract the ads.

Here are some more that were reported in NewsLaundry:

In another incident regarding privacy of customers, the fintech platform Razorpay disabled AltNews' Account and later handed over all information about donors to the government.

Critics have been calling this a severe breach of user and customer privacy. After criticisms, Razorpay released a statement:

Twitter however is quick to remind us that this is not the first or last time fintech in India has violated privacy.

From DEF's side, it seems the 20 years of our existence and its impact has got attention from many, including this long documentary by NDTV about tribal girls from Jharkhand who had been involved as SoochnaPreneurs as well as Mentees (learners on a video call) from the program called Going Online As Leaders (GOAL).

In its 20th year, DEF is rapidly expanding and trying to establish entrepreneurial driven digital centres across backward districts of the country including slums and shacks of metropolises. Recently, we reached Mumbai and extended help to Gully Classes Foundation who are gathering underprivileged children and holding classes literally in streets and under trees. Last week Gully Classes received digital devices from DEF and opened their digital centre promptly.

And then, we have some news from Kashmir, where DEF's four member team recently visited to establish no less than 53 digital centers in as many schools in the district of Kupwara with on-ground support of Indian Army.

Additionally, DEF also extended help to another bunch of community members residing in a village Dal Lake to establish a computer center, in this case with the help of a Kahwa seller who has started a floating school for under privileged children in one of the islands in Dal Lake.

Abner Manzar who visited as DEF’s team, writes,

"...he didn’t want to get bogged down by lack of funds, this was his passion project and he was seeking support to further the cause. We are now deliberating on how many computers and what kind of curriculum we should provide so that he can start providing digital education. We will also identify one of the teachers and train them in computers so that they can further train the rest of the students."

The importance of the digital, and the alternatives the locals have developed is also a stark reminder in the backdrop of the several shutdowns the valley has faced in the past decade.

From our Digital Literacy centre at Sarai Kale Khan in Delhi:

Here is another news from DEF, who started its annual event called Community Network Xchange. You must look at the website for details as this year the CNX2022 would be taking place on the 29th of every month from June to October holding in total 5 sessions showcasing 12 Community Networks from across the world, such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Myanmar.

The first session of CNX PAC 2022 took place on June 29. Two rural community networks were featured: the Community Network set up by the Burmese refugees in India and the Smartpur network set up by the Meo community of Nuh in Haryana, India. The recording of the full session can be seen here.

In Other News,

First for some positive news regarding censorship and disinformation:

Twitter counters the censorship orders on accounts and content by challenging it in court. Some of these blocks were reported by us last week.

After a complaint of intentional spread of misinformation, Zee News is under legal question:

While at it, here is a reminder of several other times Zee was caught lying on Live TV.

PM-WANI in Tamil Nadu turns ration shops into affordable internet:

Until next time, we remind our readers to stay vigilant of the disinformation online!

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TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad

TypeRight - The Digital Nukkad, is a weekly conversational bulletin curated through the news and discussions on social media as well as what's happening on the ground. Through the eyes and ears of Digital Empowerment Foundation across rural India and global south, TypeRight aspires to focus on bringing the contextual relevance of digital technologies and developments on the society - both connected and unconnected.