Partho Protim Das

Engagement editor, Dismislab
Politics down, sports and religion up

Quarterly misinformation trends

Politics down, sports and religion up

Partho Protim Das

Engagement editor, Dismislab

Following the national parliamentary election held in early 2024, political fervor simmered down, giving way to a surge in sports and religious misinformation in Bangladesh. An analysis of fact-check reports from eight Bangladeshi fact-checking websites for the first quarter of the year, spanning January to March, has revealed this trend.

During this period, Dismislab documented 1,028 fact-check reports from the aforementioned websites. The analysis focused on 656 unique cases of misinformation – excluding the repeated instances found in the fact-check reports – a figure slightly lower than that of the preceding quarter, from October to December of the previous year.

The analysis highlights that one out of every four verified cases of misinformation pertains to politics. Despite this, the political segment’s share within the total misinformation pool notably decreased from 45% to 25% in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the last quarter of 2023. This decline paved the way for sports and religion to take the forefront, with significant contributions from misinformation related to Bangladesh and India’s premier cricket leagues (BPL and IPL) and tensions surrounding the Ram temple in Ayodhya, India.

In the first quarter of 2024, misinformation was predominantly spread via video, closely followed by images. With the decline in political misinformation, the use of altered or manipulated graphics cards – largely employed to spread political lies or mimic news outlets – decreased significantly.

A slowdown in flow

The number of verified misinformation in this year’s first quarter was 5% less than the previous. It is worth noting that fact check reports of Daily Ajker Patrika have been added to this database in this quarter. This means that despite the increase in data sources, the number of verified misinformation was less.

According to the data, 25% of misinformation was about politics, followed by sports (17%) and religion (9%). While the share of politics decreased from 45% to 25% in total, sports and religion-related misinformation increased in the January-March period. In the case of religion, it almost doubled.

In previous quarters, apart from politics, disaster-related misinformation had higher instances, particularly driven by the use of misleading and out-of-context photos in news and social media. However, disaster-related misinformation witnessed a decrease in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the previous quarters.

Effects of election in a world of misinformation

The role of election in the spread of misinformation is apparent from the data. For example, the 45% political misinformation fact checked in the last quarter of last year, i.e. before the 12th National Assembly elections, has dropped to 25% in the post-election quarter.

In fact, almost two-thirds of all political misinformation in the first quarter of this year occurred in January, the election month, which declined in February. In March, it reached the lowest level in six months.

In January, misinformation regarding the withdrawal of candidates from the election, attempts to portray the election as either successful or rigged, and international support or criticism of the election were prevalent. Fake news was spread in attempts to portray different sides. Read the analysis by Dismislab to get an idea of misinformation trends  surrounding the election.

Cricket events triggered sports-misinformation spree

The first quarter of 2024 saw the highest spread of sports-related misinformation, which accounted for 17% of the total compared to a 14% share in the last quarter of 2023.

Since January, the number of sports related misinformation has increased consistently in every month. While there were 17 sports related misinformation in January, that number almost quadrupled (62) by March, mainly influenced by the two major cricket events in the region.

The majority of the sports-related misinformation was about Bangladesh and India’s T20 cricket leagues, the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) and the Indian Premier League (IPL). A number of misinformation claimed that star cricketers such as Virat Kohli, Aiden Markram or Trent Boult were set to join different teams in BPL, or that Bangladeshi cricketers were going to play for different teams in IPL (1, 2, 3). 

Apart from these infamous leagues, several factcheck reports had also been published about the use of edited photos and videos of various Bangladeshi cricketers for the promotion of gambling apps (1, 2, 3).

Australian cricketer David Warner, praising Bangladeshi cricketer Mustafizur Rahman; Sri Lankan cricketer Lasith Malinga giving negative remarks about Bangladesh; former Australian cricketer  Adam Gilchrist making negative statements about the Pakistan cricket team – such fabricated quotes also contributed to the spike.

Babri Masjid and Ram Mandir in Debate

What triggered the religion-related misinformation most in the past quarter is apparently the newly-built Ram temple in India and the associated communal tension in the country. The Ram temple was inaugurated in Ayodhya, India, on 22 January of this year. The same place previously housed the Babri Masjid (mosque) and its demolition has been a sentimental issue in Muslim-majority Bangladesh and a cause of communal unrest in the subcontinent for a long time.

One such form of misinformation was the portrayal of a temple or mosque from a different location as Ram Mandir or Babri Masjid. For instance, photos and videos of Akshardham temple in Delhi or Vrindavan’s love temple were referred to as Ram Mandir, whereas, a picture of a mosque in the Kalaburagi area of ​​Karnataka, India or a mosque in the Feroz Shah Kotla area of ​​New Delhi were promoted as Babri Masjid in various misleading social media posts.

Some even claimed that  British tycoon Asif Aziz or Portugal’s star footballer cristiano ronaldo have provided financial assistance to build the new mosque in Ayodhya following the verdict of the Supreme Court of India.

Misinformation regarding fasting and iftar gatherings have also been observed since the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan from March 12. Some of them include University of Dhaka or Comilla University banning iftar gatherings, banning of fasting and Tarawi prayers in India, or Indian cricketer Virat Kohli donating 10 crores to the mosque for Iftar

Misinformation is spread through videos the most

In Bangladesh, misinformation is spread primarily through videos and images and the first quarter of this year has been no different. That said, while there has been a 20% decline in the spread of misinformation through video in this quarter compared to the last, the spread of misinformation through photos has increased by 30%.

Spreading of misinformation through video has been observed on Facebook the most. 40% of the total verified video-misinformation was on Facebook. On the other hand, YouTube and TikTok are responsible for 30% and 29% of misinformation respectively.

In the first quarter of this year, there has been a significant decline in the use of graphic cards to spread misinformation. Compared to the previous quarter, it decreased by 47%.

Graphic cards are commonly used to spread political misinformation. In 2023, 48% of the misinformation spread by graphics cards was political. In the first quarter of this year, political misinformation and the use of graphic cards in spreading misinformation have both taken a hit.