Self-proclaimed fact-checker AltNews founder Pratik Sinha today retweeted a tweet from a fake account, thereby spreading misinformation to millions amidst the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak.
A Twitter handle named ‘Vikrumaditya’ who identifies himself/herself as Vasundhara Sangwan tweeted an image of a woman wearing a mask. Twitter user Vikrumaditya alias Vasundhara claimed that he/she (in the picture) is wearing the same mask since a week as doctors don’t have enough N95 masks, the masks which are more efficient in preventing the spread of the Wuhan Coronavirus. Please note that Vikrumaditya alias Vasundhara is not wearing an N95 mask in the above image.
The same tweet was retweeted by ThePrint chief and Editors Guild of India head Shekhar Gupta.
Interestingly, the tweet, after it went viral, was deleted. Vikrumaditya alias Vasundhara seems to be a fake account and quite possibly spreading fake news. Soon after deleted the viral tweet, Vikrumaditya alias Vasundhara tweeted a clarification that he/she is not affiliated to any political party or any group.
“My only concern is that the doctors should have access to proper precautionary gear,” Vikrumaditya alias Vasundhara tweeted. Not only that, the mask the person is wearing is an autoclaved one which is reused only. It is not disposable. However, soon after, he/she deleted this tweet as well. Now, the person has no more tweets on the timeline and he/she has also removed the profile picture and deleted the only two tweets from his profile.
Amongst other people protestor-turned-politician Shehla Rashid, The Print journalist Jyoti Yadav also follow this Twitter handle which had only two tweets prior to this viral tweet.
Jyoti Yadav, journalist with The Print, whose Chief had already retweeted this archaic account, even reached out to Vikrumaditya alias Vasundhara.
Please DM me, Doctor.— Jyoti Yadav (@jyotiyadaav) March 24, 2020
This is where things get interesting. A cached version of the profile shows that the Twitter account went by the name “Vikrumaditya” before he became “Vasundhara” for the viral tweet.
Till some time back, Vasundhara was actually Vikrumaditya, thus helping us make the reasonable conclusion that this account is fake at worst, and at best, its identity is questionable and unverifiable, to say the least.
Essentially, a Twitter account changes gender in the name, uploads an image most possibly taken off the Internet and shares a heartbreaking story of doctors who are struggling without masks as they fight coronavirus and ‘fact-checkers’ without verifying facts amplify the story. Editors Guild of India boss, too, spreads the misinformation to millions. This when the nation is fighting a major pandemic and it is a moral responsibility of every citizen to stay away from rumours and unverified information. However, for the ones with motives, such temptations are hard to resist especially when the false information makes Prime Minister Modi and India look underprepared.
This is not the first time such misinformation has been spread to claim that the Indian government is underprepared. Congress leader Harjit Bhatti, who is a doctor by profession, on Monday took to Twitter to claim that Assam Medical College doctors are given plastic to wear as protective gear as they do not have sufficient PPEs. This tweet, too, was ‘liked’ by AltNews cofounder Mohammad Zubair. However, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma called out the lies and said that the authorities are directed to take action against Bhatti.
Moreover, spreading rumours and fake news about Wuhan Coronavirus on social media, mainstream media and any other platform is punishable offence and can land one in jail for a period of 6 months.