The two allegedly created fake copies of Bangla Tribune, Prothom Alo, and other major news websites
Two people have been arrested for allegedly creating fake websites of media outlets and spreading false news about the government.
Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested Kamal Hossain alias GM Kalam, 23, and Md Al Amin, 30, from Mohammadpur and Gazipur’s Tongi area on Wednesday.
In a briefing on Thursday, RAB 2 Commanding Officer Anwar Uz Zaman said: “They created fake websites in the name of Bangla Tribune, Prothom Alo, Daily Nayadiganta, Rokomari News, and some other major newspapers and news portals.”
He said Al Amin sold the www.prothomaalo.347.com domain to Kamal.
The elite force also recovered a laptop and a mobile phone from their possession during the drive.
The fake websites use names which are spelled slightly differently to the established portal being mimicked, and publish misleading reports both on the fake website and on social media, he added.
The RAB 2 CO further said accused Al Amin studied at the CSE department of Dhaka International University, while Kamal was a third year student of the BBA department at Comilla's Nawab Faizunnesa University College.
In addition to their studies, the two used to provide online survey, domain hosting, web page design, and social media marketing services, as well as technical support, to various organizations.
The two created the fake news portals to harm the reputation of the government and make a profit ahead of the 11th general election, and also played a role in instigating violence during the road safety movement in August, CO Anwar said.
In primary interrogation, the arrestees said they have copies of the web hosting domain of various national news portals. By spreading anti-government propaganda on the fake news portals, they aimed to earn a profit as the fake reports are shared by BNP, Jamaat and anti-government supporters.
If a post receives more than 1,000 views, likes or shares, Facebook authorities pay Tk250-300 to the bank account of the domain owner, the RAB 2 official added.
A case against Kamal and Al Amin will be filed with Mohammadpur Police Station under the Digital Security Act, he said.
Fake news on the rise ahead of election
Over the past several days, clones of several popular news websites in Bangladesh have appeared, disseminating outright false political news.
The Bangla Tribune, the Prothom Alo, and BBC Bangla have all been duplicated. Meanwhile the state news agency, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), appears to have been hacked.
Fake news has been a major concern for the press across the world, especially in the wake of Russian interference in the US elections and the UK Brexit vote. Bangladesh has been the victim of cyber attacks previously, most notably the $81 million Bangladesh Bank heist in 2016, which was reportedly carried out by North Korean hackers.
Previously, on November 14, Bangla Tribune, a sister concern of the Dhaka Tribune, ran an article alerting readers to its clone, banglatriibune.com. Readers should note that there is an additional “i” in the URL.
Also, on the night of November 16, Prothom Alo decried its own clone prothomaalo.com.
On Facebook, screenshots of a BBC Bangla clone with the bbc-bangla.com URL soon started making the rounds.
All three clones resembled the originals to the casual observer, but the Bangla fonts used were clues of the sites’ lack of authenticity.
On November 24, RAB arrested "missing" PhD researcher Enamul Haque Moni, 31, for allegedly administering 22 fake online news portals and spreading anti-government propaganda.
Enamul copied news articles from established news portals and sometimes added anti-government statements, RAB claimed.
RAB also claimed they had found Shibir's involvement in the creation of the fake websites.
"Enamul, a central committee member of Islami Chhatra Shibir, used to clone websites of different news agencies, including daily the Prothom Alo, Bangla Tribune and BBC Bangla, and distort the contents,” RAB officials said.
What were the fake sites selling?
The BBC clone’s lead story was about the recent conflict involving BNP in Naya Paltan. Except, it was called a clash of factions, not a clash between police and BNP. The Bangla Tribune clone claimed banned party Jamaat-e-Islami demanded nominations in 70 seats against BNP’s offer of 45, with the addition of Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi exclaiming “unity is pointless.”
Jamaat-e-Islami issued a statement clarifying their position and denouncing the fake news.
The Prothom Alo fake news claimed BNP chief-in-exile Tarique Rahman would be the prime minister and Oikya Front leader Dr Kamal Hossain the president, if the coalition were to win the upcoming polls.