Unbeknownst to the group, a number of the missionaries were already infected with coronavirus and helped spread it when they traveled across India. Now, some of the same right-wing figures who used social media to amplify attacks on the Muslim community during last year’s controversy over the Citizenship Amendment Act, which granted non-Muslim immigrants to India citizenship, are using the Tablighi Jamaat meeting to claim that Muslims are purposely spreading coronavirus across the country.
One of the most popular videos being shared claims to show a Muslim man intentionally coughing on somebody. One tweet showing the video was retweeted more than 4,300 times before it was removed. The account that posted it, however, remains active, posting obviously anti-Muslim content. The video, of course, is fake, and was filmed in Thailand long before the pandemic began, but that didn’t stop the videos being shared by verified accounts linked to the BJP.
Analysis by Equality Labs shows that the groups sharing the anti-Muslim hashtags on Facebook are supporters of Modi and the BJP, or groups related to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization. They include the Indian Defense Force (2.8 million followers), BJP For India Page (580,000 followers), and West Bengal BJP Supporters (350,000 followers).
According to data from the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, between March 29 and April 3 the #coronajihad hashtag alone has had over 249,733 interactions on Facebook. On Twitter, almost 300,000 conversations took place with the #coronajihad hashtag, with over 700,000 accounts engaging in those conversations, according to data from social media analysis tool TalkWalker. The potential reach of those conversations was 170 million accounts.