YouTube: The Epicenter of Rumors

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Published on February 18, 2024
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Political rumors have long been a constant in Bangladesh, echoing back to the era of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's governance when rumors concerning anti-liberation forces circulated. However, with the advent of Digital Bangladesh, these rumors have taken on a new dimension, proliferating rapidly on social media platforms. Unverified gossip has even found its way onto YouTube, one of the world's most widely accessed video-sharing platforms.

In recent months, there has been a surge in such rumors, particularly revolving around the 12th parliamentary election held on January 7. This trend persists unabated. The primary targets of these video campaigns are the newly formed Awami League government, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and her family members. Numerous YouTube channels dedicated to spreading these baseless rumors have emerged on the popular video-sharing platform. However, while these videos cannot be directly linked to opposition parties such as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its extremist ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the content, purposes, and motives of the videos strongly suggest their involvement.

Recently, Shah Ali Farhad, a pro-Awami activist, shared screenshots of multiple posts featuring rumor videos on social media platform X. Upon analysis, it becomes evident that all these videos are crafted with the intent to discredit the government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In essence, these videos cover a range of topics including sanctions on Bangladesh, misinformation about violence, military coups, the fall of the government, the death of Khaleda Zia, and the release of BNP leaders. However, the common thread in each video is the relentless attack on the Awami League and its President, Sheikh Hasina. Essentially, these narrative videos exploit factual events to propagate falsehoods and present biased arguments. Interestingly, the YouTubers' delivery resembles street vendors enticing buyers with their wares, albeit in a digital space. Despite the anonymity of the individuals in these videos, they often portray themselves as experts, journalists, or human rights activists. Each video employs thumbnails filled with sensationalism and outright lies, luring viewers into clicking on them.

Here are some videos that we have found on YouTube at a glance…

Sanctions Ensuing on Bangladesh

These videos often speculate about impending US sanctions on the recently formed Awami League government or on Bangladesh as a whole. They occasionally mention visa bans or economic sanctions, invoking the names of the United States and its Western allies. Many of these videos feature the picture of the US ambassador in Dhaka, Peter Haas, in their thumbnails, and his name is often used in the headlines or titles. However, neither the US nor its embassy in Dhaka has issued any statements addressing this type of propaganda. Some examples of these videos include titles like 'Impending Bans: PM Scared, Army Chief Announces Resignation’ (https://youtu.be/OjYAx6agV54), 'Leaked: Prime Minister's Secret Exit Plan, Ban Imminent' (https://youtu.be/8vONDjyPUbQ), 'Obaidul Quader Furious as Visa Ban Letter Allegedly in Peter Haas's Hand' (https://youtu.be/xJXy5cbqnZk), 'No Escape for Sinners: End of Power Reign' (https://youtu.be/cgEJZYY3m_I), and 'Biden's Letter to Sheikh Hasina Spells Bad News for Awami League' (https://youtu.be/jX3zUobdYeQ?si=C1ltJQCKfzpDhZef). Additionally, there is a video titled 'What Did Peter Haas Say About the Ban?' (https://youtu.be/xG5eRT7dpj8?si=Qpd4mKYjzr8Vljzj).
Basically, this rumor originated from the letter sent by US President Joe Biden to the Prime Minister, expressing his commitment to collaborate with the current government.

Misinformation on violence

Another significant element found in anti-government rumor videos, both pre and post-election, is the dissemination of misinformation regarding violence. These videos allege that parties such as BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami have gained control over the streets of Bangladesh through successful protests, often involving physical confrontations with law enforcement officers. Additionally, they claim that the Awami League is losing ground to the opposition. An example of such a claim can be seen in the video titled 'BNP-Jamaat Mercilessly Assault Police' (www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJDnNV_PJPg).

Military coup

Since 2021, these propagators of rumors have persistently promoted the idea of a military coup. Even after the election, the topic of a military coup continues to be emphasized in these speculative videos. Many videos discuss the purported threats of sanctions against peacekeeping missions, suggesting that this is the reason behind the military's assumption of power. Examples of such videos include 'Military to Seizes Power' (https://youtu.be/9rbIlx4P1oo) and 'Breaking News: Interim Government to Depart Within 2 Months. Military to Lead Mass Uprising.' (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zjgw6BAYGfo).

The fall of the government

Another narrative commonly depicted in rumor-related videos is the assertion that the government has either already fallen or is on the brink of collapse within a few weeks. These videos often claim that the Awami League government is teetering on the edge of demise, compelled to dissolve the parliament due to intense agitation from the BNP-Jamaat alliance. Some videos even suggest that the government will hastily flee the country. Examples of such videos include 'Government on the Brink of Collapse' (https://youtu.be/75vijSK5VyI?si=qawnFXvOny8RUBNU) and 'Ministers and MPs Rushing Abroad for Visas' (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfcSTtcMAwo). Numerous similar videos are circulating on YouTube, alluding to the imminent resignation of the government. Despite assurances from the BNP and other allied parties since 2009, the Awami League continues to hold power in Bangladesh after this election.

Death of Khaleda Zia

A review of these rumor-driven YouTube channels reaffirms the significant importance attached to the death of Khaleda Zia by opposition parties, particularly the BNP. Many leaders and activists within the BNP hold the belief that the party will ascend to power through a mass movement soon after Khaleda Zia's demise. However, empirical data does not support this assertion. Nevertheless, rumors regarding Khaleda Zia's death are frequently propagated by these rumor-based YouTube channels. Recently, such a video has emerged spreading rumors about Khaleda Zia’s death (https://youtu.be/hOP3zvMCeu8?si=nEPqjYwHg_2DNSg_).

Reports of the release of the BNP leaders

Numerous YouTube videos have also been disseminating rumors regarding the release of BNP leaders who were detained in connection with attacks on the Chief Justice's residence, violence on railway lines and carriages, and various other disturbances across the country prior to the elections (https://youtu.be/6qy7XGgHAbE?si=Xq3FZx-rmnxl4Unz).

For those who closely observe Bangladeshi politics, the intention behind these videos is evident. Despite resorting to violence, the BNP-Jamaat alliance has failed in its attempt to compel the Prime Minister and her government to resign and transfer power to a caretaker government. Additionally, the new government has effectively demonstrated its stability on the international stage, leaving BNP-Jamaat activists and allies disillusioned. They perceive a bleak future for their movement, particularly with BNP's convicted fugitive leader, Tarique Rahman, living in voluntary exile in the UK, and senior leaders behind bars on charges of violence. Meanwhile, the Awami League government remains firmly established in a state of stability.

Therefore, it's evident that the primary objective of these deceitful and wrong videos is to boost the morale of BNP-Jamaat activists and leaders, along with their allied parties. Surprisingly, independent fact-checkers seem to be absent from this scenario. Not a single reputable fact-checker or organization dedicated to fact-checking has taken action against these misleading YouTube videos. Despite the capability of foreign media or organizations to fact-check inaccuracies related to Bangladesh, no local fact-checking entities have stepped forward to address the misleading information garnering thousands of views on YouTube.