5 minutes to fact-check

Last week, a fire broke out in MTNL’s Bandra office. In a city like Mumbai, fires are common and scary in equal measure. A day later, as pictures of the rescue operation surfaced, there was one that caught the eye of netizens and news outlets alike. It showed a woman using her phone as she was being pulled lower onto the ground by the fire-fighters.

As a colleague saw this visual on Facebook, his exclamation was followed by almost everyone within earshot in the office. They were reacting to the post of how this woman was busy clicking selfie on her phone in such a moment of crisis. It was a split second reaction that fizzled out after incoherent musings of dismay. However, something was amiss.

I asked him to share the credentials of the post that caused this stir and took to Twitter to dig in. It took me about five minutes to find peace. The woman was, in fact, on the call with her family, reassuring them that she was alive and well. She had no choice but to peer into the mobile and smile wholeheartedly.

In the five minutes that elapsed, I did a couple of things:

  • Found the picture and read the conversations around it on Twitter.
  • Look for the alternative narrative amidst the abuse for the woman.
  • Check the credentials of the account that posted the alternative narrative.

Turns out, a journalist had put up the real story in reply to one of the tweets that were gaining popularity. The tweet to which she replied has now been deleted. The reporter’s bio didn’t mention the outlets she was associated with. This was definitely not the finish point. I read through the news reports to find if someone had quoted Smita in the reports. Turns out, quite a few had. This means that this woman had interacted with the press.

In one of the reports, TOI to be specific, I found Bella’s name among the byline authors. This helped establish her credibility. Also, Smita’s picture was tweeted by TOI. It was confirmation enough.

Today, as I write this blog, I can’t find the post that led me on this hunt. The curating page, however, has put up a clarification. IndiaTV’s wrong report still exists on YouTube and so do a plethora of abuses against Smita, across the social networking sites.

I don’t have a concrete answer as to why we react before we confirm. All I have is a plea for all to be vigilant before we leave nasty comments online targeting strangers for no fault of their own. To never believe things as they are, without a pinch of salt. Another is for publications to spend some time researching before hitting the publish button. It is the need of the hour.

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