Fake News alert: ‘Mahasen’ cyclone rumors; Equinox hoax resurfaces

Morung Express News

Dimapur | May 16

Here are snippets of two ‘breaking news’ presently going viral on various social media platform in Nagaland and other places:

“Tropical cyclone Mahasen is expected to hit northeast India in the next 72 hours with heavy rains and thunderstorms expected in the region. On May 16, the cyclone is expected to cross the Bangladesh coast between Khepupara and Teknaff, close to Chittagong…”

“[T] the Equinox phenomenon will affect us in the next 5 days. Please stay indoors and keep animals indoor or protected especially from 12pm-3pm daily…This can easily cause dehydration and sun stroke. (Ps: this phenomena is due to the sun directly positioned above the equator line (sic)… ”

With the onset of summer and pre-monsoon weather disturbances, the rumor mills are churning fake news and as apparent from two instances cited above, it keeps resurfacing concurrently with the changing weather condition.

Unfortunately, such rumors spark concerns, making many gullible.

Neither ‘Mahasen’ nor Cyclonic Storm

Take the case of “Cyclonic Storm Mahasen,” a relatively weak tropical cyclone that caused loss of life across six countries in Southern and Southeastern Asia in May 2013.

According to the Indian Metrological Department (IMD) data, the Cyclonic Storm crossed Bangladesh coast at around 1:30 PM IST on May 13, 2013 “with a sustained maximum wind speed of about 85 -95 kmph.”

Incidentally, the name of the cyclone initially called ‘Mahasen’ was itself renamed “‘Viyaru,” following protests in Sri Lanka, who took affront over naming the cyclone after its king, Mahasena of Anuradhapura, who ruled the country from 277 to 304 AD.

The rumors spread further after a self-proclaimed “multi-app based hyper-regional bilingual news portal” in North East carried an article with the headline, “Cyclone Mahasen to make landfall in Northeast in 72.” The headline was changed afterwards.

Meanwhile, the fake news on social media stated that Nagaland government has issued an “alert on Mahasen.”

Further attributing a quote to “Nagaland home commissioner Temjen Toy,” who is actually the current Chief Secretary of the state.

On April 16, Temjen Toy, IAS did ask “all the departments must take preventive checks and be prepared for any emergencies, as in Nagaland most disasters occur in the form of landslides due to excessive rain and clogged drainages during monsoon season.”

However, the proceedings in the usual review meeting of the State’s pre-monsoon preparedness with AHODs, HODs and DCs in Kohima was taken out of context to suit the current fake news on Cyclone ‘Mahasen.’

According to a DIPR report, the meeting deliberated on action points relating to the disasters that may be faced with the onset of monsoon season in Nagaland.

The Indian Metrological Department (IMD), in an update on May 15, had forecasted “more thunderstorm and lightning accompanied with squall and gusty winds” at isolated places over Nagaland and other North East states are “very likely” in the next two days (May 16 and 17), but no cyclonic warning was given.

The IMD is the official Indian government agency for such purpose.

Equinox hoax: A regular phenomenon

The only thing real about the ‘Equinox hoax’ is that it keeps recurring at regular interval and mostly occurs before the onset of the hot summer season (April-May) in India when heat-wave affects parts of India.

Last year too, The Morung Express debunked a similar rumor on social media (See May 22 issue, Another fake Equinox scare doing the rounds on social media) which specifically asked “people to drink more water between May 22 – May 28 during an ‘Equinox,’ or risk dehydration or sunstroke.”

A similar message also went viral on social media in March 2018, where an ominous message warned people against stepping out during peak hours of the day to avoid possible dehydration and sunstroke. The usual suspect: a heat wave caused by the ‘equinox phenomenon.’

Experts had, time and again, rubbished the scaremongering on social media.

So, the same suggestion The Morung Express gives last year still holds true: “Drink lots of water, not for the sake of ‘Equinox,’ but summer is fast approaching and the days are getting hotter.”