• Wednesday, Dec 12, 2018
  • Last Update : 09:03 am

Fake news hits Bangladeshi news sites before polls

web-fake news

The fake news being promoted are sharply anti-BNP

Over the past four 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.

Major news sites cloned

The Bangla Tribune, a sister concern of the Dhaka Tribune, ran an article alerting readers about its clone “banglatriibune.com” on November 14. Readers may note that there is an additional “i” in the URL.

On the night of November 16, Prothom Alo decried its own clone “prothomaalo.com.” 

On Facebook, screenshots of a BBC Bangla clone from the URL “bbc-bangla.com” soon started making the rounds.

All three clones resembled the originals to the casual observer, but the Bangla fonts used were dead giveaways to any keen reader.

The Dhaka Tribune looked up the ownership of the clones and learned that all three were registered to the same entity – Privacy Protect LLC, located at 10 Corporate Drive, Burlington, Massachusetts. The contact number is “+1. 802 227 4003” and the contact e-mail is [email protected]” Note the dot in the phone number, which incidentally happens to be registered in Burlington, Vermont.

The contact details are a front used by an internet privacy provider service. Although well-intended, it can be abused to carry out criminal activities while covering one’s digital footprints.

BBC Bangla Editor Sabir Mustafa said they had learned about the fake site on November 14 and had it taken down.

Sabir said: “It is very clear that the people behind this are very professional. They only added a hyphen to our URL to clone the site.We don’t know who did this, we don’t know what they intended. We need to have all the facts first, but it is very clear that whatever this is, it’s dangerous.

“These activities directly tie into ‘fake news’ on which we held a seminar just last week. One of the dangers is that people can be easily duped by fake news. A far worse consequence is to have legitimate news websites quote the fake site and run the fake news themselves.”

The Bangla Tribune received several complaints which led to the discovery of the clone. Editor Zulfiqer Russell said a complaint has been filed to Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission and another filed with the police.

He said: “We suspect people with ill intentions are targeting Bangla Tribune’s goodwill.”

ProthomAlo Chief News Editor Shawkat Hossain Masum said they had noticed the fake site of Prothom Alo on Saturday and published an article warning readers of the duplicate. The ProthomAlo is also pursuing legal actions in this regard.

But the two clones remain online still. 

In addition, state news agency BSS was also found hosting a number of articles unlike their usual fare – mostly about mail order brides and inappropriate content. When contacted, BSS Chief News Editor Anisur Rahman Babu said: “We are investigating what happened. These articles never appeared on our homepage, and are certainly not our reports. We may have been hacked.”

The articles appeared in a random search of the BSS uncategorized category on Thursday.

‘Eighth-graders can clone a website’

Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Alimuzzaman told the Dhaka Tribune that they have received complaints from the Bangla Tribune and Prothom Alo. The CTTC is currently investigating the matter.

IT expert Tanvir Hassan Zoha told the Dhaka Tribune that developing a fake site is very simple, feasible even by an eighth grader student with the tools and tutorials available online.  

“With the IP address of the website, a case can be filed in Bangladesh. Police would inform the Interpol referencingthe IP address. Interpol’s cyber crimes investigation unit will look into the case and contact Bangladesh with further developments through its Dhaka Office.”  

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.