Sunday, September 15, 2013

Breaking now! Another massive likely #feku story!

I got this whatsapp message this morning “Narendra Modi has broken the record for the most searched person on Google. Modi entered the record book after his name received maximum number of search on Google in a day. Around 100 crore people searched the keyword Narendra Modi on search engine giant Google. Earlier this record was named after US President Barack Obama. During the US Presidential elections, Barack Obama received 98.77 lac number of search in a single day”. And of course it ended with the punch line “Do you still doubt his charsiam and popularity…..pappu is eons behind him!!”. Do note the multiple exclamation marks, surely added by the Modi-fan who sent me the text!

The first thing I did was search…..what else….Google itself! After watching a Zee TV video over youtube and a story in India Today online, I figured out that the news was most likely bogus. The India Today story titled “Narendra Modi pips Obama to become most searched person on Google” gave a hint of that when it credited unnamed “reports” as its source. Now anyone in the business of journalism knows that when the source is unnamed (another common trick: as per party insiders who didn’t want to be named!), it is most likely suspect. In this case, the fake nature of this news item stands out because it fails even basic scrutiny. The exaggeration is so enormous that it almost looks silly!

Either because the propagandist wanted to show Modi as being “a really, really tall leader”, or maybe even “a leader of the world” (!), or because of his poor grip on numbers, the fake news is embarrassing in its proportion, much like the earlier stories that earned Modi the sobriquet “feku” over social media. In his zest to show Modi’s global stature, the search number hasn’t just “inched ahead” of Obama, it has gone ahead by more than 100 times! Even Rajnikant fans must be really offended now! And to imagine that Modi was reaching out to this icon just a few days back!

There is a strong sense of déjà vu here. Just a few weeks back, Modi had said “16% of China’s GDP is spent on education in that country”. Turned out that the real number was a fraction of that! Also turned out that in reality, the Congress had spent more on education than the NDA government before had done! What’s worse, the media caught it. Suddenly, his trolls had to become creative in defending the goof up. Someone lied by quoting some obscure and/or non-existing Chinese website; someone else gave some creative explanation of “growth over last year” being 16%, not the % of GDP, and the media misquoting Modi! I have a feeling this Google story will go the same way!

In a typically stinky way that Indian media is getting famous for, responsible media outlets like India Today, Dainik Bhaskar, Jagran and Zee News “amplified” this news story, possibly without verifying it. Zee News and Dainik Bhaskar did not even bother to mention any source, unlike India Today which at least said “reports”. Zee News flashed the zingy slogan “Obama ko di maat” or “Obama defeated”! Jagran went a step further of the rest, and made the figure 178 crores (or maybe they got the story a few hours late, and the search number had surged)! It also adds “Modi’s popularity has been rising after his 3rd election”. Popularity, my foot! Coming back to the stink, source verification is the first step practiced in journalism. Did someone verify with Google? Did someone at least once question the possibility of the 100x number? But then don’t we know how Indian media works. My story yesterday about prominent journalists being colored was in the same context.

Here’s the typical “pattern” that will unfold now. There will be no statement from Modi himself on his remarkable feat! He will remain silent. The tall leader is so humble he doesn’t comment on such small small achievements! Actually, it’s a very nice way to avoid the embarassment when the truth finally comes out. He can simply disown it. In the meantime, his objective would have been served.

Some of the other organizations that amplified the message include an outfit called pardaphash (???), Saharasamay (which also does not mention the source), a curious site called (which refuses to open!) and (which only leads you to the India Today link!). I wonder if is the original source (what’s this??? The site says “we report rumors and hear-say but never create them! How nice!). Rumors? Hell, yes! It’s a matter of time before the more respectable of our media outlets all start flashing this story – again without verifying – on their websites and mass-media outlets.

Modi’s PR skills are legendary. It appears that Modi’s trolls are motivated more by the newsworthiness of a story than its basic truthfulness. Numbers are vastly exaggerated, sometimes in a way that leads to embarassment, like in this instance. Maybe that’s why Modi has become cautious in the last few weeks (since the China comment). But this news starts the pattern again. Like they say in Hindi – Kutte ki dum kabhi seedhi nahin hoti! (meant only as a phrase!).

The real truth is that the exaggeration-prone Modi’s trolls are at it again. This time, at an even more scaled up and bizarre level. Very soon, the story will be all over mass-media. It may be denied later, but by that time, its job would have been done. This is new-age India, and this is the worst of digital media….

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