Tamara Yesmin Toma

Research Officer, Dismislab

Tohidul Islam Raso

Research Officer, Dismislab
How an Aaj Tak headline fueled confusion, polarization and hate
This article is more than 1 month old

How an Aaj Tak headline fueled confusion, polarization and hate

Tamara Yesmin Toma

Research Officer, Dismislab

Tohidul Islam Raso

Research Officer, Dismislab

On May 1st, the verified YouTube channel of India’s media outlet Aaj Tak Bangla published a video. The video, titled “The result of boycotting Hindustan, 73% of Bangladeshis are not getting nutritious food”, was accompanied by a thumbnail bearing the same headline. This presentation might suggest that a significant portion of Bangladesh’s population is deprived of nutritious food due to the boycott of Indian products. However, the content of the video did not substantiate the claim. 

In the main video, the reporter mainly merged two distinct news stories. One story underscored that 73 percent of Bangladeshis lack access to nutritious food, as per discussion held in a seminar. The other story indicated that despite calls for a boycott of Indian products on social media, there has been no discernible impact on import-export activities. 

The report fails to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the call for boycotting Indian products and malnutrition, contrary to what the headline implied. Moreover, the spread of this dissemination on social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube has incited animosity  among users in both Bangladesh and India, as evidenced by numerous screenshots, posts, counter-posts, and inflammatory comments.

This report highlights how a misleading headline and thumbnail can intensify division and propagate hatred, as exemplified by several instances.

Aaj Tak Bangla video: What is it claiming?

Aaj Tak, a prominent media outlet in India, began its venture as a news channel on the TV Today Network in December 2000. It enjoys substantial popularity on social media platforms. For instance, Aaj Tak’s main YouTube channel has over sixty million subscribers, while Aaj Tak Bangla has approximately thirteen million.

The video in question was released on May 1st on Aaj Tak Bangla’s verified YouTube channel, distinguished by an official gray check-mark indicating YouTube’s confirmation of their identity. 

Now, let’s delve into the content of the video.

The report commences by highlighting recent developments: ” In recent times, Bangladesh has initiated a boycott of Indian products. And now, alarming revelations have surfaced. 73 percent of Bangladeshis lack nutritious food. Almost a third of the country’s population is grappling with malnutrition. These concerning findings were brought to attention during a discussion forum focusing on agriculture and nutrition”. The video then proceeds to provide detailed information regarding malnutrition, poverty, and anemia prevalent in Bangladesh. 

Following this segment, the discussion shifts to the “India Out” movement, which focuses on boycotting Indian goods. It mentions: “The Indian High Commission in Bangladesh also reports that both imports and exports between the two countries have increased. Bangladeshi traders are also reporting that the boycott of Indian products in the Eid market has not had any impact on the Bangladeshi markets.”

Contrary to the initial headline, the video also claims that the campaign to boycott Indian goods “has the indirect support of (Bangladesh) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and at the same time several hard-line parties.”

How the video spread animosity

Research indicates that many social media users often make judgments solely based on the headline and proceed to share the news without clicking on the link.

The situation is no different with Aaj Tak’s video. It has accumulated nearly 200,000 views and drawn approximately 1,500 comments. Most of the comments are hateful towards Bangladesh and Muslims.

For instance, one commenter on Aaj Tak’s video remarked, “Don’t worry about the people of Bangladesh, think about yourself. Make sure to use good quality toilets to protect the environment.” Another wrote, “Bangladesh has finally realized that their true ‘daddy’ is India.” Another person expressed religious bigotry, saying, “These Muslims will never improve. They have nothing but pride among them.”

Numerous users on social media platforms such as Facebook (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) and X (Twitter) (1, 2) have shared screenshots of this video. Without watching the entire video, they’ve begun expressing their opinions either in favor or against it solely based on the headline.

Social media platforms like X (Twitter) have also seen an exchange of provocative posts through the screenshots. A user under the handle “Sanghi (Modi ka Parivaar)” (associated with the Modi family) posted a screenshot with the caption, “This is why we call it Bangladesh”. Another user named Balayat Hossan wrote, “Bangladeshis eat beef,,while they eat cow dung, now who might suffer from a vitamin deficiency.!?”

On the other hand, in response to this video, Bangladeshi blogger Pinaki Bhattacharya posted the screenshot on Facebook, calling it hilarious. He remarked, “That means 73% of Bangladeshis have boycotted Indian products. The children of the countries which suffer from malnutrition to a greater extent than Bangladesh, are providing nutrition to the children of Bangladesh. Someone please hold me, I want to gig a little.” As of the writing of this report, Pinaki’s post has been shared nearly 146 times and garnered around 500 comments, with most expressing antipathy towards India and Hinduism.

One commenter on the post remarked, “The purpose of gutter media is to spread propaganda against Muslims and brainwash Hindus.” Another user wrote in the same thread, “Islam is a foreign company. Boycott Islam…” To which, another commenter responded, “Indians are a nation of stoners.”

A number of Facebook groups and pages, including Boycott Indian Products, Boycott India Movement, Bangamitra, Bangladesh 1971, have been seen posting using the same headline. The comments section of these pages shows how this has misled many users.

In October 2020, a research paper published in the journal Science stated, “In recent years, social media companies like Facebook and Twitter have played an influential role in political discourse, intensifying political sectarianism.” The following year, researchers in an article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences said, “Although social media is unlikely to be the main driver of polarization, they concluded, we posit that it is often a key facilitator.”

Malnutrition data old, product boycott campaign new

The information that 73 percent of the population in Bangladesh cannot access nutritious food came from a statement by Md. Nasiruzzaman, Chairman of the Bangladesh Agriculture Bank. During a discussion forum on nutrition held on April 29, he remarked, “Surveys indicate that 36 percent of the population in the country is stunted. 73 percent of them are unable to access nutritious food. Generally, people associate nutrition with fish, meat, milk, and eggs, but they overlook the nutritional value of vegetables.” 

Nasiruzzaman’s statement has garnered attention from various media outlets in both Bangladesh and India. However, Aaj Tak, in their video presentation, has associated this information with the recent surge in calls of boycotting Indian products in Bangladesh.

However, it’s important to note that the issue of malnutrition is not a recent one. The data stems from a collaborative report titled “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in The World,” published in 2022 by prominent international organizations the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UNICEF, World Food Programme (WFP), and World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the report, in 2020, 73.5 percent of Bangladesh’s population lacked access to nutritious food. The report also indicated that in the same year, 70.5 percent of the people in India were unable to afford nutritious food as well.

Therefore, the statistic of 73.5 percent of the population lacking access to nutritious food dates back to 2020. However, the recent surge of boycotting Indian products primarily commenced in January 2024, mainly following the national parliamentary elections in Bangladesh.

According to a report by Al Jazeera in February, The ‘India Out’ campaign in Bangladesh’s politics began with allegations of Indian intervention in the country’s politics. Similarly, in the same month, BBC reported that during that period, the campaign hashtag was trending across various social media platforms including Facebook, X (Twitter), and Instagram.