On the eve of the November 20 general elections in Nepal, screenshots purported to be from a secret circular issued by the Nepal Congress (NC) urging its supporters not to vote for candidates from the coalition partner CPN Maoist Centre went viral on social media.
The ‘secret circular’ purportedly ordered party followers not to vote for Maoist candidates other than Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ’Prachanda’, according to the document. The screenshots went viral as it was circulated just a day before the November 20 elections for the House of Representatives and provincial assemblies. They were purportedly even quoted and published by several digital news platforms such as Setopati, Onlinkhabar, Ujyaalo Khabar, and Naya Patrika.
If the circular were real, it would mean the Nepali Congress won’t hold up its end of the pre-poll electoral alliance deal and the Maoist candidates would have to fend for themselves. This could have a severe impact on the number of seats the Maoists would win as they were banking on support from NC voters in areas where they face tough competition from UML candidates.
Nepal Check fact-checked the claims about the screenshots.
On November 19, a Facebook user ‘Ashish Saud’ posted a status: “All NC leaders, cadres, and well-wishers are instructed not to vote for Maoist candidates by the Nepali Congress Central Committee. Here is the secret circular from the NC leadership.”
Saud quickly followed the post up with another sharing an image of a document purportedly published in Naya Patrika under Kamal Raj Bhatta’s byline. The caption to the image read: “No Vote: Nepali Congress Central Committee.”
Saud did not stop there. In his third Facebook post, he stated: “Nepali Congress Central Committee directs the party’s leaders, cadres and well-wishers not to vote for Maoist Center candidates across the country. Don’t vote for the Maoists. Vote for the ‘sun’ [UML’s election symbol].”
He also shared screenshots of news reports related to the circular purportedly published on Setopati, Ujyaalo Khabar and Naya Patrika. Saud describes himself as a politician affiliated with the CPN-UML on his Facebook bio.
Another Facebook user, ‘Subas Bishwokarma’ shared a screenshot of a ‘news report’ published on Setopati and Onlinekhabar with the caption, “Poor [ruling] alliance, it is time now to smear [them with] sandalwood powder,” alluding to their impending fallout. He tagged eight of his friends in the post. The headline of the news report purportedly published on Onlinekhabar reads: “Prachanda calls Deuba over phone: Maoist suspicious over NC’s circular not to vote for Maoist candidates.” Similarly, the screenshot of ‘news’ reports published on Setopati is headlined: “NC issues circular not to vote for Maoist candidates, except for Prachanda.”
On Facebook, Bishwokarma identifies himself as Secretary of CPN-UML, Beni Municipal Committee, and Central Secretariat Member and In-charge of the UML-affiliated All Nepal National Free Students Union (ANNFSU), Myagdi district.
Ganesh Basnet, chairman of Press Chautari Nepal, also uploaded a screenshot of a ‘news’ report from Setopati shortly after Saud and Bishwokarma did so. His status read: “Is the news report that NC has directed its party leaders and cadres not to cast votes for Maoist candidates, except for Prachanda, true?” Despite getting numerous comments stating that the reports are fake, he hasn’t taken down the post at the time of writing.
To determine the veracity of the ‘news’ reports cited in the Facebook posts, Nepal Check first observed the datelines and bylines of the reports shared. In the news media, a line next to a report displaying the name of the journalist who wrote the story is called a byline, the dateline indicates when the story was written and where the journalist was when reporting the story. All screenshots of the ‘news’ reports that went viral had the datelines as “November 19” and “Kathmandu.”
“NC’s circular not to cast vote to Maoist Center candidates is objectionable-Prachanda,” reads the headline of the screenshot of the so-called ‘news’ report that was purportedly published by Naya Patrika. The report’s byline says ‘Kamal Raj Bhatta’, a reporter working at the newspaper. Nepal Check looked up Naya Patrika‘s official website for the said news report as the post didn’t provide a URL link to it.
On the website that day, however, there were no such news items. Later, Kamal Raj Bhatta, who purportedly wrote the story, explained through his Facebook post that he hadn’t written any such news report as was claimed by the screenshots and that the item purported to have been published on Naya Patrika had never been published.
Similarly, the screenshot of the ‘news’ reports published on Onlinekhabar was headlined, “Prachanda calls Deuba over phone–Maoist suspicious over NC’s circular to not vote for Maoist Center candidates.” No such news item was published on the website on November 19, 2022. Lilu Dumre, a political correspondent of the website, debunked the fake news through a Facebook post.
“NC releases a secret circular not to vote for Maoist candidates, except for Prachanda,” the headline on the Setopati piece allegedly said. On that day, we couldn’t locate any such news items on the website. Sanjib Bagale, a political correspondent at Setopati, refuted the report that had gone viral on social media.
Another screenshot showed that a similar story was published on Ujyaalo online. The piece’s headline read, “Elect suitable candidates in the constituencies where Maoists have received tickets (With audio).” The ‘news’ report mentions ‘Ujyaalo correspondent ’ in the byline. But ujyaaloonline.com didn’t carry any such report on that day. This shows that the screenshot had been made up.
Later that day, Naya Patrika published a news report stating that misleading information was being disseminated by various people misusing the masthead of news media outlets. Onlinekhabar and Ujyaaloonline also published reports questioning the veracity of the screenshots that had gone viral on social media platforms.
How are fake screenshots made?
There are several ways to produce fake screenshots of news reports. Here we discuss two different methods that might have been used in this case. Utilizing Adobe photo editing software is one of the approaches. This technique involves taking a screenshot of a real news item and altering its contents using online tools or other applications.
Another technique involves fabricating screenshots using website source codes like HTML and CSS. It can be done by right-clicking the mouse button after opening the website concerned’s URL on your computer. When the ‘inspect’ option appears on the menu, all you need to do is, select ‘element’ and you can edit the text, headline, and image as you wish to. As a result, it is possible to locally alter the content of the website on your computer and then capture as many screenshots as the user wants to. This action doesn’t alter the original webpage, though.
The fake screenshots started to circulate on social media platforms during the so-called ‘silent period’ for the November 20 general elections. The election code of conduct prohibits news organisations from publishing stories during the period that enhance or damage a candidate’s reputation.
The news articles published online have their corresponding URLs (their unique address on the internet) that can be shared on social media sites. The URLs (also known as links) make it easy for readers to locate a news item they see on social media on the websites where they were originally published. That the aforementioned news reports were shared on social media platforms using screenshots rather than URLs indicates that they might not have come from authentic sources.
Additionally, according to the screenshots, the NC’s Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting decided to issue the circular to its members to not vote for Maoist candidates. However, due Dashain and Tihar holidays as well as the general elections, the NC hadn’t convened its CWC meeting since August 21, 2022.
The screenshots were doctored and uploaded on social networking sites with the intent of spreading false information. These screenshots are therefore misleading.
|Claim||Claimed by||Nepal Check Verdict|
|Nepali Congress issued a ‘secret circular’ to its party supporters not to vote for Maoist candidates.||Social media users||Misleading|