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BBC dragged into fake news controversy in Karnataka elections

Claim: A WhatsApp message/Facebook status, which contained a purported link to a BBC survey, has been circulating recently with the claim that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win 135 seats in the upcoming Karnataka assembly elections on the 12th of May.

What happened: A WhatsApp message has been circulating claiming that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win 135 seats in the Karnataka elections on the 12th of May. An identical Facebook status has claimed the same thing. The message, which has been very widely circulated, includes a URL of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), in a bid for legitimacy and credibility.

The WhatsApp message and the Facebook status read:

*Janta Ki Baat survey predicts huge BJP gain in Karnataka assembly elections.*

★ BJP - 135 Seats

◆ JDS - 45 Seats.

● Congress - 35 Seats

● Others - 19 Seats

The latest poll survey, conducted by Janta Ki Baat with the sample size of a 10.20 lakh respondents, says BJP is crossing 135 seats in Karnataka, a jump of 95 seats compared to the previous assembly elections. *This means, the BJP would end up as the single largest party with a clear Majority over the Congress.* The survey says that the BJP could get anything in between 125-135 seats. *PM Modi, Amit Shah ,Yogi Adityanath and former Karnataka CM Yeddyurappa are campaigning relentlessly for BJP in the state.*

Facts: First of all, the mathematics of this 'poll' don't add up. The message mentions a total of 234 seats (135+45+35+19), whereas Karnataka has 224 constituencies.

Secondly, the URL of the BBC provided in the message does not lead to an actual BBC article or a related page. It simply takes the user to the BBC's India page (http://www.bbc.com/news/world/asia/india). The BBC also confirmed on Twitter that the survey is false.

The post is also littered with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, which further serves to confirm that an agency like the BBC did not produce it. The opinion poll itself does exist, however, and was conducted by Jan Ki Baat, which announced its results a few days ago. It was based on an 'on-the- ground' survey conducted by speaking to 1.2 lakh respondents in Karnataka.

However, this poll predicts a hung assembly, and not the thumping win for the BJP asserted by the false one.

Conclusion: While creating a false narrative by leveraging the brand of a highly reputed news organization is not uncommon, recent advancements in technology and the ready availability of online website cloning softwares has made it a serious problem, as the links, articles, and content generated looks incredibly real, and can easily fool a cursory examination. By illegitimately co-opting the brand of a trustworthy news provider, like the BBC in this case, it is easy for propaganda stories to acquire a veneer of fraudulent credibility.


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