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Altnews founder tries to expose OpIndia, exposes himself and BBC further

Jilted by the OpIndia article, many have come out of the woodworks to mount a ridiculous defence of the motivated BBC report. One such is Pratik Sinha, the founder of Altnews.com, the fake news purveyor that calls itself a fact-checking website and was also one of the sources of the BBC report.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

Recently, BBC published a “research” paper which willy-nilly concluded that ‘Nationalism is the driving force behind fake news”. The “research” was shoddy, badly conceived, malicious and had several loopholes that were discussed in details.

The BBC, by their own admission, among other things relied on leftist propaganda website Altnews. They are self-proclaimed fact checkers who have been caught lying several times, an aspect we had discussed in the article where we exposed how the BBC “research” was nothing short of mere propaganda.

Jilted by the OpIndia article, many have come out of the woodworks to mount a ridiculous defence of the motivated BBC report.

One such is Pratik Sinha, the founder of Altnews.com, the fake news purveyor that calls itself a fact-checking website and was also one of the sources of the BBC report. Though we must at least thank him for attempting to come up with a legitimate argument rather than ad hominem attacks that people like Nidhi Razdan et al have been indulging in.

Pratik Sinha took to Twitter today and charged OpIndia.com with lying in its report debunking the BBC ‘research’. He was off on several counts and in his quest to expose OpIndia.com, he ended up exposing himself and BBC. Following is the explanation.

Pratik Sinha’s allegation of OpIndia.com lying is fake news

Pratik Sinha, the founder of Altnews took to Twitter to accuse OpIndia.com of lying in its report debunking the BBC report. He did so with a screenshot of the article published by OpIndia.com.

The OpIndia article had pointed out that ‘The ViralIndia’ has been listed both as Pro-BJP and anti-BJP. Pratik Sinha called it fake news and alleged that there were indeed two websites, one was pro-BJP and the other, anti-BJP. However, in doing so, Pratik spread fake news by maliciously using a screenshot that only presented a partial picture of OpIndia’s article.

Here is the part that Pratik Sinha maliciously left out.

In OpIndia.com’s article itself, it has been mentioned that there is a possibility that two such websites exist, however, we couldn’t find one. We have also opined that for a “research” to have presented no details of their dataset makes the BBC report an apology for a research.

Hence, Pratik Sinha alleging that OpIndia.com spread “fake news” is fake news in itself, though, we are not surprised by that one bit.

Other than spreading fake news about OpIndia, Pratik Sinha also invariably exposed himself and the shoddy research by BBC.

Deleted website formed a part of BBC’s Data Set

Pratik Sinha said that viralinindia.net was a website owned by Abhishek Mishra who was a pro-Congress person. However, viralinindia.in was another website which was owned by a pro-BJP person. He also states that the website has now been deleted.

The one definitive truth here that Pratik Sinha admits is that the Pro-BJP website was deleted.

Now, the BBC research report states the following on Page 82:

“As such we created a network analysis map of Twitter to understand the interplay of sources of fake news, mainstream media and politics. We also created a Facebook network map of audience affinities and interests to understand if fake news consumption on Facebook in India was politically polarised.”

When BBC says that they created a network analysis map of Twitter and Facebook to understand audience affinities and interests to understand if fake news consumption in India was politically polarised, they admit that they collected some primary data. Which is to say that BBC would at least need the original link of the Tweet or Facebook post (what they call seeding) by the handle to analyse who all retweeted or shared it (what they call amplification).

As Pratik admits himself, the website has been deleted. The archive link of the website provided by Pratik Sinha of the pro-BJP website has the last article posted on 15th September 2017.

If the website or handles were deleted, which Pratik himself said, BBC can’t recreate this data unless the data was collected when these handles existed.

BBC admits that from start to publication, the “research” was completed in 3 months flat. Considering the BBC ‘research’ was published just recently, we can safely assume that the research was started and completed in the last 3 months.

Since the website viralinindia.in (supposedly pro-BJP) posted last in September 2017 (according to the archive link provided by Pratik Sinha himself), we can also conclude that BBC relied only on Altnews data and didn’t have any primary data on this, since there is a lack of any other information on their research timeline.

Page 17 of the BBC research paper

Now, the next explanation that Pratik would offer is that the BBC report mentions that:

“News scan and topic modelling: Media scans from last two years of news about fake news. In English and in local languages”. 

This argument would also not hold true. The BBC report can rely on media reports about fake news (which also they haven’t done effectively because several such reports have been ignored to reach a motivated conclusion) to do qualitative analysis. However, to do analysis and draw an analysis map, once requires primary data.

A claim that viralinindia is a pro-BJP fake news website might be true, and their presence in any appendix is justified even though they don’t exist anymore, but they can’t be included in an “analysis map” unless that map was created when these handles were active.

Altnews and BBC can only say such a handle existed, but to plot them on analysis map, one would need more data: who followed them, who retweeted them, etc. One can’t try to recreate that just from Altnews reports. That is not primary data collection.

So essentially even BBC’s analysis map, which should at least have been their own original work and data-driven, was based on secondary sources, and that’s not how you analyze and come up with graphs. The secondary sources too were selective and not comprehensive, as we have already discussed in our previous report.

The BBC “research” report gives no idea about when the primary data was collected and in that case, drawing any conclusion based on a deleted page is bogus.

So, to reiterate, when we said in our original report that we could not find the pro-BJP viralinindia webpage, we were right because none exists anymore.

Existing Facebook page of the deleted pro-BJP website

Pratik Sinha then goes on to say that even though the website is deleted, the Facebook page still exists. Yes. The Facebook page still does exist. But the Facebook page which is in existence is more of a troll page that puts pictures of Gods, Goddesses and memes.

Even in that Facebook page, there are some extremely racist and anti-Modi posts. Sample this:

In the comments section of this anti-Modi post by the very page that Pratik Sinha claims to be pro-Modi, one can see Modi supporters calling the admins “congress” and asserting that this is a shameful post. On what basis then was this Facebook page specifically called Pro-Modi if it has a mixed bag of troll posts that are both anti-Modi and anti-Congress?

Obfuscation

After all of this, Pratik Sinha plugs a report from May 2017 that talks about this so-called Pro-Modi website and a host of other websites and Facebook pages that were run by the same person. He claims that all of them peddled fake news.

Now, firstly, the topic of contention here is the website called viralinindia.in and ONLY that. Talking about allied websites and the owner doesn’t make sense. If the owner spreads fake news, then his name should have been added to the data set along with examples of primary research as well. Thus, talking about other websites is an obfuscation tactic that Pratik Sinha and perhaps the BBC knows all too well.

Conclusion

We have proven now that Pratik Sinha, the founder of Altnews spread fake news while attempting to “expose” OpIndia.com. We have also, thanks to Pratik, been able to expand upon another reason why the BBC “research” is shoddy.

Further we want to ask the BBC one more question – if you did not collect any primary data and if every information and data point was taken from sources like Altnews, why call it BBC research?

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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