Tamara Yesmin Toma

Researcher, Dismislab
When past meets present: old pictures and videos altering political realities
This article is more than 9 months old

When past meets present: old pictures and videos altering political realities

Tamara Yesmin Toma

Researcher, Dismislab

Disinformation in the political arena is rapidly spreading through the use of old photos and videos falsely claimed to be from recent events, especially during political gatherings, protests, and demonstrations. Both the government and opposition parties are actively sharing screenshots of outdated news and obsolete images on social media platforms in an attempt to advance their respective narratives. The recent political events on the 28th and 29th of July witnessed the same phenomenon. Dismislab has identified at least eight instances of such disinformation, some of which originated and were spread by multiple responsible individuals.

The newly elected Member of Parliament (MP) from Dhaka-17, Mohammad Ali Arafat, tweeted four pictures that he said were recent images of the BNP’s violent activities. “A glimpse of #BNP’s terrorist activities today. They are coming back to their original character!”, he tweeted. However, fact-checkers revealed immediately that at least three of the images were from the past

A man in a white shirt is seen hitting cops in the first photo he shared and was discovered to be at least eight years old after verification. The image was initially found in a Jagonews24.com report titled “Saboteurs Target Police Again“, published in 2015.

Similarly, the second photo he tweeted showing a group of youths hitting police officers in front of a police van, was not taken recently during the rally or blockade called by the BNP. The photo had previously been appeared in a report titled “Attack on Police in Shahbagh: Chargesheet on March 13,” published in 2021, that claimed to capture a clash between protesters and police during a torchlight march in Shahbagh that year, demanding an investigation into the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed and the abolition of the Digital Security Act.

The third picture shared by Arafat was also from the previous year, and was discovered in a report headed “Clash of Jamaat leaders and activists with police, 11 detained.

Similarly, the State minister for foreign affairs, Md. Shahriar Alam, shared an old photo from his verified Twitter account, falsely claiming it was from July 29. The picture depicted a Victor Classic’s public transport bus on fire, but it was actually an old picture of an arson incident in the Coca-Cola area of Pragati Sarani in the capital back in 2020. However, the video added to the tweet by the Minister was related to recent violence.

Additionally, there was a post on Facebook featuring a picture of BNP leader Gayeshwar Chandra Roy with his head bandaged and covered in blood, falsely claiming it to be a recent image. However, upon fact-checking, it was discovered that the picture was taken after he got injured during a BNP rally in Keraniganj in 2018.

Similarly, a few Facebook posts, including one from the ‘Bangladesh BNP News‘ page, showed a video of a teenager claiming to be a member of BCL confessing to setting fire to a bus during interrogation. However, the footage was at least four years old and had been circulating on social media since March 19-20, 2019, following the death of a university student named Abrar Ahmed Chowdhury in a road accident.

Additionally, a news article published in Prothom Alo newspaper in 2014 titled “Attempt to Set Fire to Bus; 3 Chatra League Leaders Arrested” is being misrepresented as news of the BNP’s current program. In reality, these arrests were made following an incident in Magura in 2014 where a bus was attempted to be set on fire. Prothom Alo has confirmed this as a ‘fake campaign’ in a statement.

On July 28, a picture claiming to show a police officer preventing a journalist from taking pictures during the BNP’s general assembly in Nayapaltan was also shared (1, 2, 3). However, upon investigation, it was discovered that the photograph was shot in 2018 during a BNP protest in front of the Paltan BNP office, where Anwar Hossain, the then-Deputy Commissioner of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s Motijheel Division, allegedly assaulted Bangla TV reporter Arman Kaiser and cameraperson Manik.

A similar trend has been observed in India as well. During the ongoing communal conflict in Manipur, old videos and pictures have circulated, but they have already been identified and confirmed as fake by India’s mainstream media and fact-checking institutions. For instance, a video was shared with a false claim that Police beating unarmed Kuki villagers. But in reality, the video was recorded last year during the assembly elections in Manipur.

Additionally, a video of a burning church circulated on social media in India, with the ruling BJP being accused of involvement. However, fact-checkers confirmed that the video was actually from France. Similarly, an image of the Meitei community marching against Kukis in Manipur turned out to be from an anti-drug march.