Meet Telangana IPS officer fighting fake news in a unique way

HYDERABAD: This 2009 batch IPS officer has crafted a genius and innovative method of combatting fake news widely circulated through WhatsApp.

Rema Rajeshwari, the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Telangana’s Jogulamba Gadwal district, is single-handedly battling the risk of mob violence.

“I strongly feel that social media is exploiting some deeply held societal prejudices in India. If you look at the profile of the people who got lynched, they either belong to marginalized communities, low-income groups, migrants or nomadic tribes. Even a transgender was lynched to death in Hyderabad,” she said.

To curb the menace of fake Whatsapp forward, she bring back a traditional method of educating people about fake social media rumors of child-trafficking.

She and her team have been consistently doing the educative campaign for over three months to tackle this.

“We are mentally wired to believe bad things first,” Rema told India Today. But she feels, “verification is key” adding “Whenever you get a WhatApp message making a claim, stop. Think. Verify. and don’t forward if it is fake.”

Rema, along with her team of police hired folk singers and drummers who create and perform songs to spread awareness among digitally illiterate people about fake news.

“I decided to use folk singers as it was a tried and tested method in the past. I have been running community outreach campaigns such as ‘Saving Child Brides campaign,’ rescue and rehabilitation of bonded child labourers, rescue and rehabilitation of Joginis(victims of ritual sex slavery) for a few years now. I used ‘Police Kalabrundam – a cultural troupe comprising police officers trained in folk songs and ballads to create awareness in rural areas. Since people living in rural Telangana respond better to these cultural programmes I decided to use the same to fight fake news and fake social media rumours as well. My team wrote songs on ‘fake news’ and its a huge hit among people,” she said, beaming with pride.

And since the start of the campaign, not a single death or issue has been reported under Rema’s jurisdiction which has nearly 400 villages.

In the past two months, more than 20 people have lost their lives across the country in deadly mob lynchings after the messaging apps spread rumours of child-lifting gangs.

She has assigned villages to her officers to ensure better communication. “I’ve assigned villages to my officers who go twice or thrice a week to mingle with people there,” says Rajeshwari.

“Even if everyone educates those close to them to not forward a message without verifying, it can go a long way,” the officer has said.