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Pregnant? Divorced? Rumours Packaged as 'News' Sell Like Hotcakes on YouTube

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

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"Actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is 'leaving' husband Abhishek"

"Katrina Kaif is pregnant"

"Tanuja is admitted to the hospital, leaving daughter Kajol crying"

These are just a few examples of the thumbnail texts screaming for attention on YouTube videos that have gained millions of views in the recent months. At best, they are baseless rumours packaged as 'news' – and at worst, not a single one of them is true.

These thumbnails just scratch the surface of the kind of fabricated content that one sees regularly on YouTube, which include fictitious and misogynist narratives about celebrities from the Hindi film industry.

Cheap internet, growing digital penetration, the second-largest online population, and a massive audience for Bollywood are the factors lending themselves to a steady consumer base for anything and everything related to filmstars in India.

Many content creators seemingly have identified this target audience as well as the potential of such 'news' in video format (combined with audio and video effects) – the most-consumed format on social media.

Team WebQoof identified four such YouTube channels that have used these very tactics. With a combined total of over 22 lakh subscribers and almost 155 crore views, we looked at nearly 11,000 videos.

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Altered, Fake Images Used to Entice Viewers

One such channel is a verified one, which has amassed over six million subscribers. It has published videos with sensational, misleading titles, using altered photos in its thumbnails which entice viewers by claiming to show new and important information about their favourite actors.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

The channel joined YouTube in 2016.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

In the image below, the channel used an edited image of actors Ranbir Kapoor and Alia Bhatt with a photo of their toddler in its thumbnail, claiming to show photos of the family’s New Year’s vacation in the Maldives.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

It used two edited photos of the actors.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

One of the videos, published on 2 January 2024, talks about Kapoor’s “upcoming” film Animal (which was released on 1 December 2023) and uses Bhatt’s old photos as one of the family’s vacations. It also includes a video of a random baby claiming to be Raha.

(Swipe to view both altered, fake images.)

  • The video uses altered photos to make up a story about Bhatt and Kapoor with their child.

    (Source: YouTube/Screensot)

While this report was being written, the channel shared another video with an edited photo of Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, speculating the former’s pregnancy.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

This thumbail too, uses an edited photo of Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

This video used visuals of Padukone, layering it with altered audio which uses Padukone’s voice to falsely depict her confirming her pregnancy, wanting to share “good news” with the world.

It has published several videos about different actresses being pregnant or hospitalised.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

PR Bollywood has shared several falsehoods about Kajol and Deepika Padukone's pregnancies.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

Clickbait Thumbnails to Publish Misinformation

Another channel which uses the same clickbait method to publish misinformation has over 1.7 lakh subscribers and is determined to convince people that actor Katrina Kaif is pregnant with her husband Vicky Kaushal’s child, using badly edited photos.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

Bollywood HTV has shared at least six videos claiming Kaif's pregnancy.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

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One more instance of blatant misinformation on both channels, based on absolutely nothing, are videos about Rajya Sabha MP and former actor Jaya Bachchan, confirming Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s separation.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

Both channels have published videos which falsely show Jaya Bachchan "confirming' Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's split.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

This channel also shared edited photos using old images to claim that shortly after actor-turned-producer Arbaz Khan tied the knot on 24 December, actors Malaika Arora and Arjun Kapoor, too, began their wedding ceremonies.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

All of the information and visuals seen in these thumbnails is altered and false.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

This is completely unfounded as neither of the actors, nor their spokespersons or any media outlet, have carried this information or visual. It solely exists on this specific YouTube channel.

Apart from pregnancies and hospitalisations, another channel with around 4.5 lakh subscribers also specialises in sharing misinformation about celebrity divorces and arrests. 

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

'KhushRang' routinely posts videos about celebrity couple divorces.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

If one were to fall for their lies, it would be easy to believe that actor Ranbir Kapoor has been arrested by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on multiple occasions.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

The channel has published multiple videos about Ranbir Kapoor being arrested.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

Misogyny Runs High Across All Channels

Fuelling unverified rumours are just one tactic these channels employ for eyeballs, monetisation and watch time.

They do not stop short of objectifying young women, picking up photographs from their professional photoshoots or paparazzi sightings, editing them or presenting them with misleading context to sexualise women.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

PR Bollywood has shared regular and edited photos to objectify young women in the film industry.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

What’s the harm?: Apart from sharing utter falsehoods and edited visuals to misrepresent reality, these channels have also propagated viral misinformation. 

One video combines deepfakes of popular Indian actresses such as Kajol, Alia Bhatt and Rashmika Mandanna, claiming to show “dirty” videos of the women.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

It has also shared a compilation of edited visuals and deepfakes.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

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It has also shared all these fake clips in different videos uploaded to the channel, which would help it get more views, thereby increasing the amount of money the channel's owner would make.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

Team WebQoof has debunked some of these videos.

(Source: YouTube/Altered by The Quint)

The Quint has covered these viral deepfakes. You can read our reports and fact-checks here and here.

A video of Bollywood actor Sunny Deol walking around in an inebriated condition had also gone viral in late 2023, which was shared as a “shocking video” of the actor.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

The video, in which Deol could be seen stumbling into an autorickshaw, had gone viral on social media.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

Team WebQoof found that the video showed behind-the-scenes footage of a movie being filmed, which the film’s director clarified to The Quint.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

Team WebQoof reached out to the director of the upcoming film, who rubbished rumours of Deol being drunk.

(Source: The Quint)

In another instance, one of these channels used an edited photograph of Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to depict domestic violence for views.

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

Another thumbnail seen on the channel uses edited videos to claim there was domestic violence in the Bachchan household.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

Spreading such misinformation, especially about actors who enjoy massive, almost God-like status in society, brings to life internet trolls in its comments section.

Our team has explored how real news on popular topics like cricket and politics, is often repurposed and embellished on YouTube. To learn more about how these channels work, read our report here.

Do people fall for these videos?: A significant number of these channels' viewers seem to believe whatever the video shows them.

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  • Commenting on videos about the Bachchan divorce, one user requested Amitabh Bachchan to "take care" of Abhishek and Aishwarya's house, as he was a role model.

  • Under deepfakes of Bollywood actresses, people were less kind and leaned towards misogynistic comments, saying that people had fallen so far to earn money that they didn't even bother thinking about respect.

  • Commenting on pregnancy videos, people were of the opinion that pregnancies are "blessing after marriage (sic)" and since Ranveer and Deepika had such a good life, "they must have 2-3 kids asap (sic)".

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

Several people fall for this misinformation.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

On the other hand, there are people who know whatever the videos show, is not to be believed. Many viewers called out clickbait, calling these videos "fake news", with one user saying that they would "report this channel for using such fake and misleading titles and images."

WebQoof uncovers the rampant misinformation and sensationalism surrounding Bollywood stars on YouTube channels.

Many commenters were seen calling out 'fake news' and lies.

(Source: YouTube/Screenshot)

What is YouTube doing about it?: According to the platform's misinformation policies, it does not allow "certain types of misleading or deceptive content with serious risk of egregious harm."

This includes content that can cause real-world harm, such as content that has been technically manipulated or doctored to mislead users. Misattributed content, too, is eligible for removal on YouTube.

Such content causes real-world harm for people, in this case, celebrities. Having immense popularity and influence does not protect them from the mental toll this kind of misinformation and trolling takes on a person, but makes it worse because of the recognition and attention their names demand.
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On several occasions, actors and celebrities who have been targets of trolling and misinformation have spoken up about their experience, with some opting to leave social media for the sake of their mental health.

In 2022, Rashmika Mandanna, whose deepfake was mentioned earlier, penned a note on her Instagram account, addressing how she has been "a punching bag for a lot of trolls and negativity out there."

"It’s heart breaking and frankly quite demoralising when I’m being ridiculed and mocked by the internet especially for things that I HAVE NOT SAID," Mandanna specified, explaining how "bits of things" she had said in interviews were turned against her.

"False narratives being spread across the internet that can be very harmful to me and the relationships I have in or outside the industry. I welcome constructive criticism because that’s only going to push me to improve and do better. But what’s with the vile negativity and hate?"
Rashmika Mandanna on Instagram

Back in 2019, actor Jaaved Jafferi announced on X (then Twitter) that he was temporarily quitting social media after publicly expressing support for anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protestors.

Some targets like Aaradhya Bachchan, who is Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's daughter, chose to take the legal route against this misinformation on YouTube in 2023.

Being a minor, she sued a few YouTube channels through her father, for publishing false information about her death and illness using morphed images. Watch our video for an overview of the action.

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However, laypeople, who may be targeted for their views or identities, do not always brave the trolling and social media harassment.

In November 2023, 16-year-old Pranshu, a queer make-up artist, died by suicide after being incessantly trolled under an Instagram video of them showing off a Diwali outfit.

Even after their tragic death, queerphobic comments continued to trickle in their reel's comment section, after which the account was turned private.

The channels in this report fulfil all criteria for content removal, but all three channels – and hundreds of similar ones – not only persist on the YouTube but continue to grow.

The Quint has reached out to YouTube, highlighting these problematic channels on their platform, and will update the story when their response is received.

In India, Bollywood is a potent tool for raising awareness, starting important conversations and bringing a variety of issues to light.

On the flip side, it is also used as a foundation to share all kinds of fabricated narratives and misinformation. Explore our Hindi interactive to see how these fake news factories use Bollywood to thrive on the internet.

(Not convinced of a post or information you came across online and want it verified? Send us the details on WhatsApp at 9540511818 , or e-mail it to us at webqoof@thequint.com and we'll fact-check it for you. You can also read all our fact-checked stories here.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Bollywood   YouTube   Fake News 

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