In the month of July last year, Uttar Pradesh Police police had launched the digital volunteers campaign wherein digital volunteers were hired to curb the menace of rumours and bust illegal activities. In a massive exercise, the Uttar Pradesh Police had hired 250 digital volunteers for each of the 1,469 police stations to tackle mob-lynching like incidents provoked by dissemination of fake news on social media. A total of 3,67,250 digital volunteers were to be roped in by the UP Police under this initiative. As per a last year report, Uttar Pradesh DGP, OP Singh had said that Uttar Pradesh Police was the most active on social media with a total of 4,41,000 Twitter followers.
Uttar Pradesh DGP had said, “Now we are launching our digital volunteers’ campaign. Every police station will have 250 digital volunteers, they will play a key role in busting rumours and will report any illegal activities in the locality.” The police had also tweeted, “Your opportunity to be a digital volunteer of #UPPolice is here. If you are a peace-loving, law-abiding, socially and digitally active citizen of UP then join hands with us in our first of its kind community policing initiative in the country.”
Your opportunity to be a Digital Volunteer of #UPPolice is here. ? If you are a Peace Loving, law abiding, Socially & Digitally active citizen of UP then join hands with us in our first of it’s kind community Policing initiative in the country. #DVUPP https://t.co/HCLROYjZxG pic.twitter.com/d9WW8u20Sp
— UP POLICE (@Uppolice) July 19, 2018
Now, an Indian Express report elucidates how the UP Police is effectively using WhatsApp to tackle fake news. Rahul Srivastava, Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP), Technical Services, is the social media head for UP Police and also the monitoring authority for the ‘digital volunteers’ initiative, which was launched by the UP Police on July 19 last year. As per UP Police, 3.5 lakh digital volunteers are associated with the UP Police as of now. Twelve Police officers are a part of the social media team based at the DGP headquarters of the UP Police in Lucknow. ASP Srivastava said, “They oversee the digital volunteers initiative, too. Two of the 12 officers, a DSP and a Sub-Inspector, are women. The officers work in eight-hour shifts and ensure round-the-clock vigil on social media.” UP Police DGP, OP Singh said, “The WhatsApp Digital Volunteer initiative is a one-of-its-kind outreach initiative. We have created a statewide network of ‘digital samaritans’ at the police station level. They act as our eyes and ears, and play a valuable role in checking fake news and rumours, and in the amplification of our voice. They bring to our knowledge crucial issues that merit attention, which then get resolved through timely intervention.”
ASP Srivastava said, “We have a WhatsApp group for each of the 1,469 police stations in Uttar Pradesh. Each group has 250 members from different sections of society, such as social workers, teachers, pradhans, student leaders, lawyers, etc. The SHO of the concerned police station, Deputy SPs and Additional SPs of the district are in the group. We choose people who are on the ground to be digital volunteers. They have to be law-abiding citizens with no criminal background. We give out a form to applicants. The information given by them is verified.”
There is also a separate WhatsApp group with police PROs and social media in charges of all 75 districts in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Srivastava said, “PROs and social media in-charges of all eight IGs, 18 DIGs and 8 ADGs are also part of the group, which has around 200 members. This functions like the central hub in the flow of information. Messages are circulated to all districts from this group, through the PROs and social media in-charges. Our social media team here (in Lucknow) also pushes content on this group.”
The digital volunteers not only inform the police about misinformation, fake news and rumours through the WhatsApp group but also help the Police in the process of negotiation between religious groups in a conflict situation. ASP Srivastava said, “All digital volunteers are expected to keep a watch on social media and on the gound for information on crime and rumours.” He also said, If there is a news that is false and can lead to a law and order situation, we immediately verify it and circulate a message.”
Explaining how this is helping the UP Police in curbing fake news, the social media head of the UP Police cited an example: “Last year, a post with two pictures was circulated in local groups in Gonda. One picture showed a woman tying a rakhi on a man wearing a skullcap; the other was of a badly injured woman. The post said the pictures were of the same woman, and she had been raped by the man. After investigation, we found that the second picture was that of a victim of a railway accident. We immediately sent a message that the post was fake to all police station groups with digital volunteers. The volunteers were asked to circulate our post busting the fake news in all their social groups. The post could have led to a communal flare-up.” He gave another example of a boy from Chandauli district, “It was being falsely claimed on WhatsApp and social media platforms that he was set on fire because he refused to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’. We put out a post and circulated it on social media through our digital volunteers regarding his death.”
UP Police has clearly set a precedent by tackling an issue in a highly innovative manner. The UP Police and government deserve to be applauded for taking such laudable, pro-active measure.