At a cursory glance, this image would seem to show a high-ranking police officer bowing at the feet of India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh. Despite this being a pretty obvious case of Photoshop misuse, it was widely circulated on social networks in India, and was even relayed by a major opposition party’s spokesperson.

As an Indian debunking site quickly pointed out after the hoax started spreading, the image is based on a screenshot from “Kya Yahi Sach Hai,” an award-winning movie about corrupt police officers. The head of a fictional minister in the movie was replaced with a photo of Singh.

This is the original image from the film:

And here is the Photoshopped image:

The hoax image was shared on Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter; some captions suggested that the police officer in the image was the Director General of Police of the state of Gujarat, where elections are coming up in December. This elicited many outraged responses – including from the Congress Party’s national spokesperson, Sanjay Jha. (The Congress party and the home minister’s party, the Bharatiya Janata party, are facing off in the Gujarat elections). Jha tweeted the hoax image with the following message on November 1:

After several Twitter users called him out, he said that he would delete the photo and chastised the person whose copy of the image he had retweeted.

“We see spikes in hoaxes before elections”

Pratik Sinha is the cofounder of Alt News, an Indian hoax-debunking site. He lives in Ahmedabad in Gujarat state.

This image has been circulating for about a month now, and it keeps going, despite multiple people debunking it. People keep sending me messages to ask me if it’s real. Seeing a high-ranking police officer in such an inappropriate position in front of such a senior politician is quite shocking, to those who believe it actually happened. No police officer, not even a constable, is supposed to bow in front of a politician. Had such a thing happened, it would have been on the front page of every newspaper in the country.

Beyond it being a terrible Photoshop job, what’s striking is that the Congress party spokesman shared it. He’s someone who really should be able to check whether such a huge claim is true! It doesn’t make sense – it’s like he hasn’t made any effort at all.

Hoax images relating to politics are shared on social media all year long, by supporters of parties on all sides, but we do see spikes right before elections. In Gujarat, another hoax has been shared widely: an image of an opinion poll result broadcast on TV was doctored to put Congress in the lead for the Gujarat elections, when the BJP was actually leading.

Another really crazy hoax that has been making the rounds recently shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi shaking hands with the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack. This too, of course, is Photoshopped.

On the left, the read image of Narendra Modi; on the right, the doctored image.

I think that these hoaxes certainly affect people’s political opinions, since many more people see and share the hoaxes than the articles debunking them.

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