Minhaj Aman

Research-Lead, Dismislab
How disinformation played during the bangladesh national election
This article is more than 2 months old

How disinformation played during the bangladesh national election

Minhaj Aman

Research-Lead, Dismislab

Various types of fake news and disinformation have surfaced on social media surrounding the 12th National Parliamentary Elections held on January 7, 2024. False announcements of candidature withdrawals, efforts to portray the election as either successful or rigged, and international support or criticism of the election have been widespread, with both sides spreading fake news. Dismislab’s monitoring of election-centered disinformation reveals this trend.

Several techniques have been employed to spread false information. At times, fake Facebook profiles are created in the name of candidates, and posts from these accounts falsely claim their withdrawal from the election. Graphics cards have been used to promote false statements by various diplomatic figures, asserting the fairness of the election. And, old election videos are reposted, falsely alleging vote tampering in the current election. Claims of long voter queues are made by presenting old photos of polling stations. The use of video in spreading disinformation was common and a few involved the use of artificial intelligence or AI tools to spread false statements of candidates.

Concerns about the spread of disinformation in the national election were present from the outset, and a growing trend in political disinformation since mid-2023 has heightened these concerns. This report offers a brief overview of the prevalence and impact of election-centric disinformation in Bangladesh.

Deepfake Video

In the lead-up to Bangladesh’s 12th parliamentary elections, concerns were raised about the potential impact of disinformation generated with the help of artificial intelligence technology. Despite these fears, the use of AI-generated disinformation was not widespread in the election. However, two deepfake videos garnered attention, impacting two independent female candidates, Beauty Begum and Abdullah Nahid Nigar, running in the Bogura-2 and Gaibandha-1 constituencies, respectively.

Both candidates were featured in deepfake videos, widely circulated, where they appeared to announce their withdrawal from the election and encouraged support for the other candidate. The deepfake videos, as identified by multiple fact-checking organizations, utilized AI tools, transforming still images of the candidates and incorporating computer-generated voices to convey false statements. Notably, the language used in both videos was remarkably similar.

The deepfake video targeting Beauty Begum in the Bogura-2 constituency was disseminated by a Facebook page named Bornil Bogura and the deepfake of Abdullah Nahid Nigar in the Gaibandha-1 constituency was circulated by a page named Gaibandha Gazette. Interestingly, both Facebook pages were launched on the same day.

Comments on the videos indicated a positive reception, with statements like “Good initiative taken,” “Good action taken,” and “Good news” indicating many viewers assumed the false statements to be true. These two constituencies had approximately 720,000 male and female voters combined.

In the end, Abdullah Nahid Nigar secured victory in the Gaibandha-1 constituency, while Beauty Begum faced defeat in the Bogura-2. The primary rivals for both affected candidates were from the Jatiya Party: Barrister Shameem Haider Patwary in Gaibandha and Shariful Islam Jinnah in Bogura. The ruling Awami League did not field any candidate in these two seats.

Fake announcement of withdrawal 

Fake photo cards of withdrawal of candidates. Image source: Jugantar

In another constituency in Bogura, a northern district, independent candidate Syed Kabir Ahmed Mithu claimed that his Facebook account had been hacked, and false news about his withdrawal of candidature was posted there. He later filed a complaint with the police and convened a press conference.

A fake Facebook account was created to spread false announcements of a candidate withdrawing from the election in the Naogaon-5 constituency. The fabricated card circulated in the name of independent candidate Dewan Sekar Ahmed Shishan indicated his withdrawal from the election and urged voters to support the Boat (symbol of the Awami League) candidate. A fact-check report highlighted multiple such posts on social media. The candidate, on his official page, denounced it as a propaganda tactic.

Similar complaints were raised by independent candidate Beauty Begum of the Bogura-2 seat, a victim of deepfake video. She claimed that a fake Facebook account had been opened in her name, initiating a false campaign about withdrawal of her candidature.

false claim of withdrawal of candidature was posted in the name of independent candidate Abdus Salam of the Chattagram-8 constituency through a fake photo card. Photocards from the mainstream media outlet DBC News were manipulated to spread this misinformation.

Narratives: Good vote, Bad vote

On the night before and the day of the election, two conflicting trends of disinformation emerged on social media. One faction asserted that the election was fair, showcasing images of long voter queues at polling centers; another group initiated claims of widespread rigging and irregularities during the elections.

The prevalent use of old videos and pictures to propagate these false claims was observed. For instance, a Facebook post on the eve of the polls alleged that election-related violence had erupted in Dhaka, using an old video that was at least a month and a half old.

Similarly, on the morning of polling day, an online portal shared a picture stating “long queues of voters even on a winter morning,” falsely claiming it to be from the 12th National Parliamentary Elections. In reality, the image was from the local government elections held in 2021. At least three news portals featured long queues of voters in the January 7 election using old photos.

Numerous videos depicting fraud or irregularities circulated on social media during polling day. While some of these videos were reported as accurate or genuine by various media outlets (12), several old videos (1234) showcasing election irregularities were circulated on social media, falsely claimed to be from the current election.

False quotes praising and criticizing the vote

Two opposite false statements about the United States on Bangladesh’s national election.

Numerous false quotes have circulated about prominent individuals, including policymakers from international organizations, embassies, journalists, and even educators, in connection with the recent election. Three fake quotes attributed to the European UnionUS President Joe Biden, and US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas were disseminated, claiming they praised the smooth conduct of the National Parliamentary elections. Three major Bangladeshi media outlets, The Daily Star, Dainik Kalbela, and Prothom Alo, fell victim to this, as their photocards were fabricated to spread these fake quotes.

On the other hand, false statements involving the United Nations and the United States were also propagated, asserting their rejection of the election and a call for a re-election.

Similarly, a Bangladeshi talk show personality Professor Salimullah Khan was falsely quoted as saying, “Violence in elections is a very normal phenomenon. Instead of crying for two dead people, unite for the sake of fair elections.” He later clarified that he did not make any such statement.

Another false quote circulated in the name of Bangladeshi journalist and head of Deutsche Welle’s Bangla division, Khaled Muhiuddin, purportedly saying, “For 70 wickets [deaths], 40% is the achievement [of which] 38% is fake, 2% is cast; this is their achievement in the last 15 years…! I am ashamed as a journalist.” However, he denied making any such statement afterward.

Globally, there is widespread concern about the detrimental impact of political disinformation spread online during elections. With elections scheduled in 64 countries in 2024, where nearly half of the world’s population is expected to exercise their right to vote, a global survey by UNESCO in September 2023 revealed that 85 percent of people are anxious about the effects of online misinformation.