Even after two weeks since the 2023 Karnataka elections ended, with the Congress winning 165 out of 224 seats in the state, social media platforms saw a barrage of mis/disinformation surrounding the polls' outcome.
As Karnataka flipped from a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party-led government to Siddaramaiah's Congress government, The Quint's WebQoof team analysed several posts across social media platforms – including WhatsApp – which were being shared with hashtags related to the elections.
How many posts were shared with these hashtags?: The elections' results were announced by the Election Commission on Saturday, 13 May. We looked at the number of posts that were shared with different hashtags until 25 May.
#KarnatakaElections2023 saw 2,353 posts on Facebook and 1,256 tweets on Twitter.
(Note: Swipe right to view both images.)
2,353 posts were shared on Facebook with #KarnatakaElections2023.
(Source: NewsWhip/Altered by The Quint)
The hashtag #KarnatakaElections was used in 1,176 posts on Facebook, while 865 tweets were shared with the hashtag.
#KarnatakaPolls was also used on social media, with 1,251 Facebook posts and 1,327 tweets.
What Are All These Posts About?
While most of these posts were about the elections' results and their analyses, people also shared communal and political misinformation.
WebQoof found that most of the verifiable claims were communal or political in nature, with some having elements of both.
For instance, a graphic video of people slaughtering a cow on a BJP flag went viral, claiming that it showed visuals from Karnataka after Congress won the polls, targeting the party.
This claim was also shared by Twitter Blue subscribers, thus boosting its reach.
But the video dates back to 2022 and was from Manipur.
Another viral claim was shared with a video from Karnataka's Bhatkal – a Muslim-majority area in the state – which was shared with a communal claim that people had hoisted Pakistan's national flag after the election results were announced.
But the video showed that the green flag was raised along with other flags and was not Pakistan's national flag.
About 70 percent of these claims were shared as videos, followed by images, which made up 20 percent of the claims.
Several unverified visuals also did the rounds across platforms.
A video of people waving a large green flag was also shared with the 'Pakistan flag' claim, whereas one clip from Belgavi was shared to claim that the crowd had raised pro-Pakistan slogans.
We also received queries about an image showing a long line of voters, many of whom were seen in hijabs.
This photo was shared with a communal narrative that said that the Congress had won the Karnataka elections because people from the Muslim community had "come out to vote in large numbers," as opposed to Hindus who were seemingly "relaxing" at home.
The Quint could not independently verify the veracity of these claims.
‘Verified’ People Behind the Misinformation
One of the most viral claims around the elections was shared the day the results were announced, on 13 May.
Social media users shared this screenshot, purportedly one of cricketer Virat Kohli's Instagram story praising Congress leader Rahul Gandhi.
A verified Twitter Blue account named "Dr Nimo Yadav" was one of the users sharing this image. At the time of writing this report, the post had 27 lakh views and had not been taken down despite the image being fact-checked.
The account mentioned that it was a "parody account" while also calling itself a "fact-checker."
The parody account shares posts supporting Rahul Gandhi.
Misinformation Shared To Push Anti-Congress, Communal Narratives
The misinformation The Quint fact-checked was shared with claims which attempted to target the Congress party.
These claims stated that the Muslim community was 'emboldened' by the Congress coming to power after the BJP government.
One such claim showed a video of a young boy offering namaz in the middle of a busy road, with users sharing it as a recent visual from Karnataka.
However, the video predated the elections by at least three months and was not even from India.
Another claim used a set of photos to claim that Muslims had attacked Jain monks after Congress won the assembly elections.
These photos, too, were old and had no connection to the Karnataka polls.
Some posts made direct but misleading communal claims related to Congress leaders in Karnataka.
An example of this is a video of an All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader from Telangana, which was shared as one of a Muslim Congress leader threatening police personnel after the results were announced.
Karnataka and Communal Misinformation
The state has seen several communally-tense situations in the past few years, ranging from the death of Harsha Jingade, a Bajrang Dal worker in Shivamogga to the hijab ban.
In the early days of Karnataka's hijab row – and eventual ban – a video of people hoisting a saffron flag on a pole went viral with the false claim that the people had supplanted the Indian national flag to do so. You can read our fact-check here.
In the same vein, videos of clashes were being shared with claims that targeted hijab-wearers and the Muslim community.
Claims related to the hijab ban emerged in connection to the Karnataka polls too. A video that could be traced back to February 2022 was shared to claim that the Congress had lifted the ban after winning the 2023 Assembly elections.
The Quint had analysed the wide range of misinformation shared before the 2018 Assembly elections as well, showing that communal politics is not a recent phenomenon for the state.
West Bengal in 2021, Karnataka in 2023. What’s Next?
Karnataka witnessed a mis/disinformation campaign similar to one we saw after the conclusion of the 2021 West Bengal Assembly elections. The Quint had fact-checked several visuals and claims that were linked to a wave of post-poll violence that had washed over the state following All India Trinamool Congress' win.
In our analysis, we found that videos from other states and old videos of violence had gone viral with communal claims, targeting the Muslim community.
Sample this: A video from Uttar Pradesh's Muzaffarnagar, which showed a man being thrashed by people wearing skullcaps was linked to the violence in West Bengal.
In reality, the matter was in no way communal but was about an electrical lineman refusing to work without permission, which led to the fight.
Another example is a disturbing video of a man being hacked to death in Brazil, which was also linked to Bengal's post-poll violence.
We saw this same pattern after the Karnataka polls. The claim about Kohli praising Rahul Gandhi via Instagram started doing the rounds hours after Congress was said to be leading in the state.
While one might still be cautious of potential mis/disinformation on social media before polls, this emerging trend of post-poll misinformation may spell trouble for future elections.
Media literacy, along with thorough fact-checking, could turn out to be necessity going forward.
To know how you can learn to spot mis/disinformation, watch our Verify Kiya Kya? series which may help you carry out basic fact-checks on your own.