India

Kerala floods: Fake news 'creating unnecessary panic'

Image of fake news warning by Indian Army Image copyright @adgpi

Indian authorities have urged the public not to spread fake news on social media after devastating flooding hit the southern state of Kerala.

The Kerala Police department has posted a series of appeals on social media warning that legal action could be taken against those who spread misinformation.

Fake army officer

A video showing a man dressed as an Indian Army officer has been condemned as "disinformation" by the army itself.

The video shows a man dressed in camouflage claiming that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has stopped the army from conducting rescue operations in the flood-hit region.

The clip went viral in India over the weekend and has been shared many thousands of times on social media and also in private WhatsApp groups.

However, the Indian Army has hit back at the "imposter" on Twitter.

A distressing audio clip warning of the imminent collapse of the Mullaperiyar dam is another widely-shared example of misinformation relating to the flooding.

The short clip, which claims "the dam is leaking", has been circulating in WhatsApp groups for a number of days.

In the clip, an unidentified man says that within three hours, the Ernakulam area "will drown". He adds: "A friend in the PMO [Prime Minister's Office] told me. So tell all your friends and family to leave as soon as possible."

Like much fake news, the clip taps into wider fears.

The dam, built in 1886, has been a point of ongoing conflict between Kerala and neighbouring state Tamil Nadu for many years.

Tinku Biswal, Kerala Water Resources Secretary, wrote to the state police condemning the "baseless rumours" which are "creating unnecessary panic".

Secretary Biswal directed the police to "take immediate action against the rumour-mongers".

Old photographs are a common form of misinformation during natural disasters and can give a false depiction of the situation and lead to confusion.

These images, which resurface during times of extreme weather, can be very difficult to spot.

An image of a flooded car park has been shared many times in the past week.

It claims to show the current situation at a Renault dealership in the city of Kochi, Kerala.

This image was not only widely shared on social media, but news outlet First Post included it in an article published on 10 August, with the caption "an aerial view of the flooded Renault Yard in Kalamassery, Ernakulam".

However, a quick search on social media reveals that the striking image was first shared five years ago during heavy rain.

Renault also took to Twitter to confirm the image was not accurate, and that it will be filing a complaint.

As people search for information amid the chaos, another false warning message has gone viral.

A fake alert from the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) warning that power supplies were going to be switched off, has been shared via WhatsApp since the height of the flooding.

The message reads: "KSEB alert: KSEB likely to shut down its power stations in entire Kerala by tomorrow. Kindly inform your near and dears [sic] to charge their phones and necessary equipments [sic]. As the Kerala State Electricity Board KSEB would not be functioning the next day."

The Kerala Police and KSEB both released statements condemning the false report and warning that legal action will be taken against those spreading dangerous misinformation.

A distressing video showing a group of blackbuck antelope being swept along in powerful floodwater has been shared by many with the captions "extremely shocking scene!!" and "deer in Kerala floods".

Some have shared the clip asking "can the state save these animals?" while others have urged viewers to forward the video to their WhatsApp contacts.

The video claims to show the the Nilambur area, which has seen record-breaking rainfall and fatal landslides in the past week.

Image copyright FACEBOOK
Image caption A video claiming to show a group of blackbuck antelope in Kerala has been widely shared on social media

However, the video was not taken in Kerala, but the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

Officials in Odisha confirmed that the video was taken on 14 July in the Ganjam district.

Sandeep Tripathy, the principal chief conservator of forests, told PTI News: "There has been no casualty. All the blackbucks are safe and under observation of forest officials."

Additional reporting by Zainul Abid, BBC Monitoring

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