How A 'Spoof' Article On The Kathua Rape Case Became 'Real News' On WhatsApp

The original article carried a disclaimer. But different versions of the same article have gone viral without the caveat.

On April 14, Sunday Guardian published an article whose headline carried an asterisk. At the bottom runs a disclaimer, reiterating the literal meaning of the very headline: that the write-up should be considered fiction. “This article is a pure concoction based on fiction. Any resemblance with any character or event is unintentional and coincidental,” it says. And yet, the article seems to have had no issues naming real places,  name-dropping politicians, naming the accused in the rape case, and most importantly – the minor – who as per the orders of Delhi HC cannot be named.

Anatomy of a Concoction by Sushil Pandit is a veritable assortment of every conspiracy theory currently doing the rounds. It talks about the alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old in Kathua, Jammu over a supposed land dispute and of another gruesome rape of a minor with the sensitivity of a root cavity.

In an age where analysis is on the decline, one wonders at the motivation behind carrying such a piece that’s categorised under Fake News by the very publication that carries it. The answer is rather obvious when you think about how news is being consumed by the masses.

I didn’t know this piece existed until I received a similar version of it on a family WhatsApp group. It came with a caveat of its own — that of being a ‘ground report from a close friend’.

A short while later, I received the same message again on another group. Soon, Anatomy of a Concoction was everywhere on social media.

While many on Twitter were mocking and raging at temerity of publishing such a misleading and dangerous piece of ‘fiction’; on WhatsApp, the story had largely found acceptance. At a time when we forward first and think later, the 17-point post had gained the notoriety of being the truth.

And that’s when it struck me. The target group was never meant to be me or you. We are, of course, including in the attack of the brainwashing brigade, but the target group they really were aiming for were those relatives we mock for persistently sending ‘Gd morning dr’ messages. The ones who believe that Lord Ganesh will smite you if you don’t like his photo. The ones who inundate you with ‘forward this to 10 people or you will have bad luck’. The ones who believe typing BFF will erase any data Facebook might have on them. The ones who treat every single hoax, every single apocalyptic post on social media as the Gospel truth.

Your elderly relatives and mine were the target audience. And guess what? While you and I were busy fence-sitting during WhatsApp or real-life debates, when it came to our country, the haters hit bulls eye.