It seems a very intentionally designed rumour mill is working fulltime, sending chills and panic among the gullible souls.
Once again, they are using Facebook as their primary means to spread panic, with the social media platform once again failing to check fake news despite its earlier promise.
The panic runs so high that many guardians are not sending their children to school in fear that they might be abducted and sacrificed.
Moreover, the public lynching of Taslima Begum Renu, a 42-year-old mother of two, on suspicion of being a child-lifter has made life uncomfortable, as people fear they may fall prey to mob beating by people they may have adversity with.
Cumilla’s Rahela Begum, a 55-year-old woman, is so fearful of losing her grandson that she would not let him go out alone.
Where did she get the news?
“From Facebook, from tea stall, grocery shops and public places,” was her answer.
Asma Khatun, a housewife in Khulna city, said she stopped sending her 7-year-old daughter to school after she had read posts from Facebook about the possibility of abduction and sacrifice of children.
Such rumours led to several mob lynching – the most harrowing one was that of Taslima Begum Renu in Dhaka city who was beaten to death when she went to a school to inquire about admission of her daughter.
The government has taken the matter with such seriousness that some 60,000 Ansar and Village Defence Party men have been deployed to check the fanning of rumours.
Police have already removed several Facebook accounts and pages through which rumours were being spread.
However, new rumours continue to spread on social media, the latest being that there would be no electricity for three days.
‘War against rumour’
Law enforcement agencies are working round the clock to combat the onslaught of false rumours being spread through online platforms such as Facebook, YouTube channels and news portals using questionable sources.
Several hundred such platforms have been identified by the police cybercrime unit’s Open Source Intelligence (OSI) Lab. The police have taken an initiative to block the accounts by contacting Facebook’s Singapore office and Google’s regional office in India.
The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Bangladesh Police has also launched a 24-hour cyber monitoring initiative.
Speaking to The Business Standard, acting deputy commissioner of Cyber Crime Unit AFM Al Kibria said: “A total of 60 Facebook IDs, 25 YouTube channels and 10 news portals have been blocked so far using the OSI Lab.
“We have declared a war against rumours.”
As part of the effort, police on Thursday launched Anti-rumour Awareness Week to raise awareness throughout the country.
Commenting on the issue, Police Headquarters' Assistant Inspector General (media) Sohel Rana said: “People of all sections and professions are being made aware through a massive anti-rumour publicity campaign.”
Meanwhile, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) sources said eight people have so far been detained from different parts of the country in connection with spreading rumours.
Rumours are also being spread from Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia on Padma Bridge issue. Police have identified three IP addresses and efforts are on to bring those involved with the crime to justice, said Cyber Crime Unit sources.
More than 50 IDs, being used to spread false rumours, have already been identified.
Fighting fake news in Bangladesh
Social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have faced backlash from lawmakers around the world for failing to control the spread of fake information, especially in election campaigns.
In December 2018, ahead of the 11th national elections in Bangladesh, Facebook removed nine fake news pages and six accounts originating from Bangladeshi users. It said those pages and accounts mimicked news outlets, posting pro-government and anti-opposition contents, and engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour.
Facebook’s investigation had revealed that activity on the pages and accounts were linked to individuals associated with the Bangladesh government.
Twitter also suspended 15 accounts originating from Bangladesh ahead of the parliamentary elections. It said those accounts had engaged in “coordinated platform manipulation”.
Among the fake news pages removed by Facebook, one had around 11,900 followers.
A post on one of the pages removed, which was mimicking the news portal bdnews24.com by using the name “bdsnews24.com,” claimed jailed BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia had expelled party Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
A month before the 2018 elections, clones of several popular news websites had surfaced, disseminating false political news. The Bangla Tribune, Prothom Alo, and BBC Bangla were all duplicated by perpetrators.