How Telangana Cop Rema Rajeshwari Tamed WhatsApp Fake News
Meet Superintendent of Police Rema Rajeshwari, who took it upon herself to fight fake misinformation.
The summer of 2018 saw India being gripped by a hysteria generated on social media. In separate incidents, over thirty people across the country were brutally lynched – all on the basis of WhatsApp related rumours.
Jogulamba Gadwal district of Telangana, located about two hours away from the capital city of Hyderabad, too fell prey to such viral WhatsApp forwards. The viral video, dubbed in Telugu, cautioned the locals to beware of strangers and warned them of looming child kidnapping threats.
The villages of Gadwal, where people never locked their homes, and spent summers outdoors, suddenly witnessed self-imposed curfews. People who were visiting these villages were attacked.
This was not Gadwal’s story alone but that of many other districts in India. But unlike the rest, the district’s then Superintendent of Police Rema Rajeshwari took it upon herself to fight misinformation.
The Modus Operandi
She first gathered her army of police officers, educated them about the perils of misinformation and sent them as messengers. But before that, she made sure her messengers were a part of the village’s local WhatsApp groups.
In a recorded video, IPS officer Rajeshwari, who has served for more than a decade, told The Quint:
“Every village has local WhatsApp groups and invariably, all the WhatsApp groups have the local sarpanch or village elders as admins. So we thought why not make village police officers a part of this group? Whenever a fake social media message is being circulated, police officers will come to know about it and they can request the admin to take down the message and also make sure that they don’t forward the fake rumours.”Rema Rajeshwari to The Quint
‘Awareness Through Traditional Storytelling’
Rajeshwari, who asserts that “lack of awareness” was the root cause of the rumours, turned to folksingers for help.
“To make it more appealing to the people, we took the help of folk singers. We have a cultural troupe, which be call the ‘Police Kalabandham.’ We train them and they write songs on social media rumours and with the help of these folk artists, we started conducting programmes in all the villages.”Rema Rajeshwari to The Quint
With the help of dapu (drum) artists, the police went around villages for months, and appealed to the people to not believe in misinformation. People were also told not to take law in their hands.
And this, the Telangana cop says, was a game-changer.
An IT-Cell for A Better Cause
Rajeshwari’s efforts have reaped rewards. It has been more than eight months since that summer and Gadwal has not witnessed any killings related to WhatsApp rumours.
“I have instituted a social media monitoring cell in the district headquarters. We have a group of trained police officers who are tech-savvy and they keep a constant watch on all the social media platforms in the district and we come to know whenever such content is being circulated. We immediately take action.”Rema Rajeshwari to The Quint
Later in 2018, the Telangana cop was transferred to Mahbubnagar Police, where she is continuing her efforts to fight fake news.
“We are also telling people that if they know that this video is fake and this message is fake, and yet they are forwarding it deliberately or using it to attack someone, or cost damage to someone or put their lives at risk, then we are going to take action against them.”Rema Rajeshwari to The Quint
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