On August 15 2019, at around 9.30pm, the twitter account of Meghalaya Police was tagged by a twitterati, whereby a video was shared along with a tweet informing that it was an SOS message through social media to rescue 2000 Sikh families who are stuck in a Gurudwara. So much so that, the message was also seen by the Punjab Chief Minister, and he also officially shared his concern. Fake news and misinformation has been an issue in Meghalaya, especially Shillong. In order to tackle this issue of misinformation, DEF conducted a workshop with Meghalaya Police on August 27, 2019.
The workshop was attended by the State police from all 11 districts from Khasi, Garo and Jaintia hills divisions. There were between 90-110 participants to the workshop, which also included media and NGOs in a small measure.
Shillong has a substantial population of Dalit Sikhs who were brought by the British before 1857 to be employed as sweepers because local population was averse to tasks they considered menial. Now this community has been residing in Shillong for over 150 years. The locality they live in is right at the heart of the city called Punjabi lane. There has been resentment between the Punjab community and the strong local Khasi group, who want them to be relocated outside the city limits, so the area could be used for commercial purposes. Tensions between the communities grew when fake news of two young men surfaced allegedly beheaded by the Punjabi community. Upon investigation it turned out to be a concocted fake story. Fake news and misinformation have been a constant source fuel to the simmering issue and it very easily leads to major social and political predicament for district administration and Police.
NRC is another extremely sensitive issue, which is having its impact on the region. Almost everyday there are rumours floating that needs to be verified for informed handling of the situation. Therefore, the State Police and administration is always on alert with information and resources.
The participants of this workshop belonged to senior, mid and junior ranks in Meghalaya state police. They found the workshop to be very useful. Here the rancours of being able to catch the culprit who has started fake news were less intense as compared to other states because they already had a certain level of awareness. Many of them understood encryption and verification. In the light of the spread of fake news in Meghalaya, they felt the workshop equips them well to deal with fake news and misinformation and they will take the learnings to the community as well. We are doing WhatsApp workshops simultaneously at many levels with different focus groups, such as- community, NGOs, weavers.