How to mitigate the harmful effects of disinformation spread via social media. Learn from Tamil Nadu’s example. The state apparatus lost no time in responding to the rumor-mongering that migrants from north India in TN had endured “attacks” when the video message initially surfaced in Bihar streams. In direct contacts with migrants and also on social media, the CM, ministers, police, and governor, and industry staged a rapid and strong reaction to quash the rumours and ensure Hindi-speaking migrants of their safety in TN.
In response to a tweet from the Bihar chief minister expressing worry about news coverage of the incident, TN police said unequivocally that both video messages were staged (one was an earlier grab of two locals fighting, the other, also dated, was of two migrant groups in a scrap). To make sure no messages were lost in translation, officials in Chennai contacted their counterparts in Patna, who promptly sent a group from Bihar that wisely included a Tamil-speaking officer.
Although while businesses in TN are aware that their migrant workers will travel to their native Bihar to celebrate Holi, many were worried that this hoax would discourage them from coming back to work after the holiday. As of the 2011 Census, approximately 40% of India’s population were migrants, making them the backbone of the country’s economy. It was projected by the state government in 2016 that there were about 10.6 lakh migrant workers in TN, with 27% working in manufacturing, 14% in the textile industry, and 11.4% in the construction industry.
It was believed by migration specialists and unorganised labour organisations that the numbers were low. Covid shutdown in March 2020 revealed the vulnerability of India’s migrant population, yet they still regard the facilities in destination states like Kerala and TN, albeit restricted, to be preferable to the ones they leave behind in home states like Bihar, Bengal, UP, and Jharkhand.
It is the responsibility of the state to intervene when perpetrators of false news seek to influence vulnerable populations that cannot fact-check what they consume on their cellphones. Some politicians and reckless journalists fueled the flames after social media did what it often does: spread the fire. The fact that law enforcement and administrations in both Tamil Nadu and Bihar worked together and responded swiftly is a welcome change of pace and an example that should be followed.