Since 30 March, when news broke that six attendees at the Tablighi Jamaat, an Islamic religious gathering in Delhi’s Nizamuddin locality, had died of COVID-19, fact-checking websites have reported a barrage of fake-news targeting Muslims for the pandemic. Many video clips shared on Facebook and WhatsApp purportedly showed Muslims actively working to spread the virus in India. Fact checkers said that despite each of the posts on social media being easy to disprove, the sheer quantity of false-information shared made it tough for them to flag all cases of disinformation. “Ever since the Nizamuddin incident is in the public domain, there is a surge in fake content targeting the Muslim community,” Rakesh Dubbudu, the founder of the fact checking website Factly, said.
From mid-March, Indian social media reported seeing a consistent uptick in verifiably false message about COVID-19. Most messages on platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook surrounding the virus tended to be false-cures, or “expert tips,” on how to avoid the pandemic. Dubbudu said that a majority of fake content related to COVID-19 did not have a religious tone until recently. However, on 30 March, multiple fact-checking organisations noticed a sudden surge in Islamophobic fake news on social media.
From 8 to 15 March, more than two thousand devotees met in Nizamuddin for a conference organised by the Tablighi Jamaat—a Muslim revivalist organisation. The meeting continued for two days after the Delhi government banned any gathering of more than 200 people. However, reports show that the 13 March order did not extend to religious organisations. The organisers of the event argued in a press release that several delegates, many from south India and abroad, were stuck in Delhi because of the cancellation of rail services on 21 March.