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Hands holding a messy graph

Misinfographic: The Spread of “Jihad Chart” in India

By
Sanjana Rajgarhia
Media Manipulation Tactics Used

Overview

 A misinfographic detailing supposed types of jihad spread from a conspiratorial Facebook page critical of Islam to the social and open web and eventually into the mainstream media when a major outlet aired a segment that included a version of the chart. Based on the evidence and pattern of activity, the amplification of the Islamophobic misinfographic was likely not an intentional campaign planned and executed by a single group, but rather the result of the media cycle, prejudice, and political adoption.

STAGE 1: Manipulation Campaign Planning and Origins

On July 31, 2015, an image entitled “Jihad: The Holy war to spread Islam,” was posted in English as a public post on a Facebook conspiracy page ostensibly focused on Indian audiences called “Boycott Halal in India.”1 The misinfographic exploited existing anti-Muslim prejudice (a minority identity group in India) with a conspiratorial graph categorizing different types of jihad: “soft jihad,” “secularism,” “media jihad,” “hard jihad,” “history jihad” and “economic jihad.”2 Each classification was accompanied by a corresponding definition: “media jihad,” for example, was defined as “[using] paid media to speak in favor of Islam.”3 The image carried a watermark from a now-deleted Facebook page, “Secularism ki Topi,”4 but little else is known about its origins.5 The misinfographic and the accompanying text, which is signed off by a “David Lagesse” has also appeared on other sites and Facebook groups critical of Islam and Halal food.6 It is unclear who the operators of these Facebook pages are, however.

The misinfographic then moved beyond Facebook. On August 7, 2015, for example, the graphic was shared on Twitter7 and on blogs such as Reality News Network,8 and in September 2015, the image was published on the self-proclaimed anti-Islam site Sickular.com.9 In March, 2017, a Reddit post was created in the subreddit /r/indianews titled “Understanding Hard and Soft Jihad” that featured the same graphic, but with the “Secularism ki Topi” watermark removed.10 A comment asking for sources received a response saying “There are no sources. Treat it like a Unkil Whatsapp Forward Msgs,”11 i.e., a message of spurious origin sent by an older male family member.12

STAGE 2: Seeding Campaign Across Social Platforms and Web

After a five-year period of dormancy, the misinfographic reappeared on Twitter in July, 2019.1 Then, on September 9, 2019, right-wing influencer Payal Rohatgi tweeted the image to her 200,000 followers, including influential leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), such as Piyush Goel. She commented (in a now deleted tweet), “Why did Mughals come to Bharatvarsh from Middle-east? They wanted to CONQUER, do #FORCEDCONVERSION. Simple but jokers like #ZainabSikander who are jobless, have NO logic in their brain want money to run their house so spread misinformation in disguise of #HistoryJihad.”2 The image was also turned into a meme for trolling purposes, appearing on Reddit and the content aggregation website Me.me with the caption “Indian grandma explains the types of jihad.”3

STAGE 3: Responses by Industry, Activists, Politicians, and Journalists

On March 11, 2020, the chart gained significant media exposure after it was amplified in the mainstream media when Sudhir Chaudhary, editor-in-chief of the TV news station Zee News, which is chaired by BJP-affiliated member of parliament Subhash Chandra,1 shared a Hindi-translated version of the image on his daily prime-time show Daily News and Analysis (DNA).2 While the graphic was shown on screen, Chaudhary interpreted it, commenting, “Jihad is the weapon of those who want to split this country into tiny bits,” and, “Jihad uses two kinds of weapons: those that kill you and those that manipulate your mind.” As of September 2020, the video had more than 3,600 retweets and 7,200 likes.3 The show itself, DNA, is one of the most watched news programs in India at 180 million people, according to ratings of March 2019 to February 2020.4

STAGE 4: Mitigation 

The rest of mainstream media in India largely ignored Chaudhary’s segment but critical press criticizing Chaudhary as racist and accusing him of plagiarizing his content appeared on independent online news sites like The Quint and News Laundry,1 and fact-checking outlets like BOOM.2 Similarly, many popular journalists didn’t address the controversy, but Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor of India Today (one of the most widely read magazines in India),3 harshly condemned DNA, tweeting “The unspeakable communal HATE being spread on a daily basis by this channel is shocking, shameful, dangerous. And it’s a channel owned by a govt supporting MP! Will anyone in power take note and stop this shit? Or indulge this further?”4

Social media companies took specific steps to ban references to the jihad chart from their platforms. For example, Twitter removed Rohatgi’s tweet on the topic on March 1, and has since suspended her account numerous times, essentially de-platforming her.5 

In addition, social media influencers on Twitter and YouTube responded to Chaudhary’s segment with strong counterspeech. On March 12, political satirist Akash Banerjee uploaded a spoof video on #NewsJihad, titled “How 9PM News is Brainwashing You,” which has generated over 700,000 views.6 While the term #NewsJihad was used before, it was used in this instance to reframe the term as the persecution of those who spoke up against the BJP. Other influencers such as Dhruv Rathee shared the video while co-opting the hashtag #TihadiJihad to counter the anti-Islam sentiments driven by DNA’s segment.7

Social media users started using the term “jihad” in various contexts, both in sarcastic and serious ways. The stock market crash following the COVID-19 outbreak was referred to as #SensexJihad,8 while the hashtag #HusnJihad9 (defined as killing non-Muslim people with your good looks) became popular on Twitter. Satirical memes were shared across social media highlighting everything a Muslim does being categorized as jihad.10 Similar diagrams were created to mock Chaudhary.11

A criminal investigation also resulted. On May 7, the Kerala Police served a First Information Report (FIR) to Chaudhary for “maligning the Muslim community” and booked him without bail.12 The incident may have backfired, as it immediately drove a greater level of media exposure to the chart, with outlets like FirstPost,13 The Wire14, The Indian Express15 and Zee News16 itself covering the scandal. Outlets and blogs such as OpIndia.com17 reported on the threats that Chaudhary was apparently receiving from Pakistan.18

Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor of India Today, harshly condemned DNA following the show’s airing of the misinfographic. Credit: Screenshot by TaSC.

Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor of India Today, harshly condemned DNA following the show’s airing of the misinfographic. Credit: Screenshot by TaSC.

STAGE 5: Adjustments by Manipulators to New Environment

Following the arrest of Chaudhary, the BJP party quickly adjusted by launching a media counter-offensive, emphasizing its values of freedom of the press and the importance of truth. BJP officials blamed political rivals for the legal action, pointing to the Communist Party of India. “The case by Kerala Govt against senior journalist @sudhirchaudhary is an attack on Press Freedom & is aimed at silencing the Media,” tweeted Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, the national spokesperson for the BJP. “What is the Communist Party afraid of? The Truth??”1

After Chaudhary’s arrest, the mainstream media and social media filled with coverage of him — both positive and negative. Hashtags like #jihaadvszee, #ISupportSudhirChaudhary, and #HangTihadiSudhirUpsideDown were all trending on May 7, implying that there was both support for and against Chaudhary. On May 8, the Facebook page “Hum bhi #Chawkidaar” posted a picture of Chaudhary posing with India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Trump, along with the comment, “Let's stand with him. #ISupportSudhirChaudhary.”2 On May 9, the hashtags #IndiawithZee and #IndiaIsNotWithZeeNews both trended.3 

Chaudhary has continued to provide significant exposure to the topic. On May 7, he shared his FIR on Twitter and gloated that it was his “Pulitzer Prize.”4 On May 9, Chaudhary aired another segment on Jihad, which Zee News posted to Twitter with the caption, “Raising the issue of Jihad in India is a crime! Why ZEE NEWS targets jihadis? Will religion have to be changed now for freedom of expression? 2020 'National Emergency' of Nationalist Journalism?”5 And on May 17, he linked the discussion to Pakistan —  an important wedge issue in the Indian context — to further rally his supporters. He claimed that he received hate calls and death threats from Pakistanis and people in the Middle East who were celebrating the FIR against him.6 This continued media exposure has kept the misinfographic circulating in some domains.  

Cite this case study

Sanjana Rajgarhia, "Misinfographic: The Spread of “Jihad Chart” in India," The Media Manipulation Case Book, October 26, 2020, https://mediamanipulation.org/case-studies/misinfographic-spread-jihad-chart-india.