(Editor's note: The story was first published on 28 June 2022 and is being republished from The Quint's archives in light of the Supreme Court granting interim bail to Mohammed Zubair in relation to a case registered in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh.)
On Monday, 27 June, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair was arrested by Delhi Police over a four-year-old tweet, based on a complaint from a Twitter user claiming that the tweet hurt their religious sentiments.
Back then, he had shared a clip from legendary film-maker Hrishikesh Mukherjee's 1983 classic Kissi Se Na Kehna in the tweet. A scene from the movie had gone viral in 2018, which turned into a meme-fest on the internet.
Zubair, who has been at the forefront of debunking mis/disinformation and calling out hate speech on social media, faces multiple FIRs for this work he does.
Since its inception in 2017, Alt News has systematically worked to bring the focus back on facts, by exposing lies propagated by media houses, politicians across political lines, celebrities, and users on social media.
And while Alt News continues to publish fact-checks from topics ranging from politics, science, health, and viral videos, Zubair also focused on calling out and documenting the online hate.
Earlier this year, Alt News started a Twitter handle called UnHate, which focuses on documenting offensive/hate speeches through a Twitter account.
The organisation has also done in-depth stories analysing the people responsible for spreading misinformation, thus, documenting their journey.
We took a look back at work done by Zubair and the fact-checking organisation since its inception.
Fact-checking political claims
Holding news organisations responsible for spreading hate and misinformation
Documenting hate speech spread by right-wing groups on various platforms
Fact-Checking Politicians and Political Parties
While Zubair and Alt News have been accused of targeting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leaders, a cursory glance at the website shows that the organisation has fact-checked political parties across political lines.
For example, ahead of the elections in Uttar Pradesh, various handles of the Indian National Congress shared an image of two men from the Hindu and Muslim communities holding a poster of the party to drive home the point that the people in the state wanted to bring back Congress.
But in a fact-check, Alt News found that the image was morphed, and the men were holding a poster of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Alt News also debunked fake WhatsApp chats that AAP shared to claim that Congress and TMC were involved in horse-trading of ministers.
While the organisation is often criticised by the right-wing for 'only targeting' the BJP, a look at their website proves otherwise.
It can be argued that the the number of fact-checks done on the BJP is more, but the plausible explanation is the party's strong presence on social media, a pattern pointed out by several fact-checkers, including The Quint's WebQoof.
Calling Out News Channels for Spreading Misinformation
Apart from fact-checking political leaders, Alt News has repeatedly called out news channels and organisations for spreading hate and misinformation.
After the recent Nupur Sharma controversy, Zubair was instrumental in calling out news channels for inviting "self-proclaimed" representatives from the Muslim communities who often insulted other panelists.
Like other fact-checkers, Alt News has also called out Sudarshan News for its problematic coverage.
Earlier in April, Alt News debunked a claim made by the channel’s editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke that Pawan Hans Limited is indulging in “job jihad” by only recruiting Muslim aspirants. The claim was later found to be false, but the video is still there on the channel’s social media handles.
Last year in August, when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, several news channels ran unrelated visuals claiming that Pakistan was involved in the fight in Panjshir. (Their fact-check can be read here.)
Another example was a video showing a man hanging from a helicopter, which was shared as the Taliban hanging a person, presumably an American interpreter, from a US Black Hawk helicopter.
However, Zubair found that the man in the video was a Taliban man who was trying to install the group’s flag on a pole but was failing. His fact-check was mentioned in international fact-checks done on the topic.
There are several such examples when Alt News has called out the mainstream media for ignoring facts and amplifying falsehoods.
Back in October 2020, India TV aired a video claiming that chants of ‘Modi Modi’ were raised in the Pakistani parliament. This claim was amplified by many channels like Times Now and TV9 Bharatvarsh and right-wing propaganda website OpIndia. However, it was later found that the MPs were chanting “voting, voting” and not “Modi Modi.”
While India TV and Times Now deleted their tweets, TV9 Bharatvarsh still has the video on their official Twitter handle.
TV channels have repeatedly peddled misinformation about the raising of 'Pakistan Zindabad' slogans in India, and Alt News has fact-checked several such claims on multiple occasions.
In most instances, even after the police found that no such slogans were raised, no action was taken against the channels or the people who shared the misinformation online.
Documenting and Speaking Against Online Hate Speech
Zubair has also been documenting hate speeches by self-styled Hindu godmen, right-wing influencers on social media, and political and religious spokespersons on TV debates.
Zubair was one of the first people to talk about the hate being spread in the Dharam Sansad held in Haridwar. His exposé lead to the arrests of Yati Narsinghanand and Jitendra Tyagi.
He also put out a video where another godman called Bajrang Muni was seen publicly threatening to kidnap and rape Muslim women. Bajrang Muni was later arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police.
After being released, Narsinghanand, Bajrang Muni and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Anand Swaroop filed a case against Zubair for calling them “hate mongers.” Earlier this month, the Allahabad High Court dismissed a petition by Zubair, who had challenged the FIR registered against him in the case.
Zubair also was one of the people who put out details about the Sulli Deals and Bulli Bai apps, created to virtually “auction” Muslim women.
More recently, Zubair put out a video of suspended BJP Spokesperson Nupur Sharma making derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad on a Times Now debate.
While Sharma claimed that Zubair had edited the video, Times Now and her own party distanced themselves from her. After receiving condemnation from several Muslim nations, BJP labelled Sharma as a ‘fringe element’ and suspended her from the party.
Following the Nupur Sharma row, Zubair created a Twitter thread about the kind of people news channels invite for debates.
Zubair and Alt News' relentless pursuit of facts has been impactful – from BJP distancing itself from the likes of Narasinghanand and Nupur to the Bulli Bai accused being arrested.
Moreover, their work has led to politicians being more careful about the kind of content they publish on social media, and some even tagging them on Twitter to check certain viral videos.
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