YouTube videos about Nirmala Pant’s rape and murder have left Nepalis with more questions than answersThe 13-year-old’s murder mystery has created a cottage industry of YouTube channels which are churning out sensational crime videos that add more confusion than clarity.
Misinformation was dictionary.com’s word of the year in 2018. It was also the same year that social media platforms in Nepal—YouTube, in particular—saw an explosion of content laced with misinformation, in the weeks and months after the gruesome rape and murder of 13-year-old Nirmala Pant in Kanchanpur last monsoon.
A quick search for Nirmala Pant on YouTube yields hundreds of videos with sensational headlines and thumbnails, showing the teenager’s smiling face laced with text in loud colours with screaming titles.
“This is how the police tried to hide the evidence in Nirmala’s murder,” one video says. “Nirmala’s investigation takes a new turn,” another one reads. “Nirmala’s killers revealed,” a third video pronounces.
These videos, including some blatantly ridiculous ones like those that claim to reveal ‘Nirmala’s haunting spirit’, have each racked up close to half a million views on YouTube. A year since the 13-year-old’s murder, videos like these continue to be produced and uploaded to YouTube, and even though the police's investigation has little to show where the investigation is headed, tens of millions of people are watching misleading videos that claim to provide definitive answers to Pant’s murder.
In the last one year, police have interrogated several people in connection with the case, and among them, two men—Pradip Rawal and Bishal Chaudhary—even confessed to the crime. But after their DNA didn’t match with the sample collected from Pant’s vaginal swab, they were both released, leaving the police nowhere close to identifying and arresting the perpetrators.
Online content creators and journalists say amid such climate of confusion, misinformation was at the centre of how the general public built its opinion and attempted to make sense of the rape and murder of Nirmala Pant last year.
“People reached all sorts of conclusions about who the perpetrators might have been, based on conspiracy theories and half-baked information these YouTube videos fed them,” said Umesh Shrestha, a journalist who has published dozens of stories about what unfolded in the months since Pant’s murder.
In the weeks and months since Pant’s murder, mass protests took place all over the country and several committees were formed to probe the workings of officers involved in the investigation, which many say was botched from the start. At a time when there is little headway in the investigation, the barrage of sensational videos on YouTube proclaiming to ‘reveal the truth’ about Pant’s murder has added to the confusion.
The millions of views these videos have garnered show an appetite for this kind of content among the Nepalis. This has thus resulted in similar videos proliferating across the platform in the year since Pant’s murder. Nepali YouTube channels have made the most out of people’s mounting frustration towards the government apathy in Pant’s case by churning videos after videos, which has further piqued the general public’s interest and swelled the demand for these kinds of content, keeping the vicious cycle alive, says Shrestha.
But not all YouTubers are happy about the situation.
“This is what I detest most about YouTube. People are buying this kind of content, which misinforms society and feeds them negativity,” said Rastra Bimochan Timlasena, who runs the popular YouTube channel Random Nepali. “This is yellow journalism, where so-called YouTube journalists are trying to monetise the freshness of the crime.”
Timalsena, who has also stumbled on these videos about Pant, says that except for a few “informative” explainers by the online news portal Pahilo Post, most videos have misleading content, which can easily overwhelm viewers. Ironically, these well-researched explainers have failed to do well, garnering only a few thousand views, in comparison to videos that sensationalised every nugget of information in the Nirmala Pant investigation and have hundreds of thousands of views.
A-one Television is among the dozens of YouTube channels that have been able to capitalise on the Nirmala Pant case to up their subscribers and viewers. The content for this Dang-based television channel was initially an afterthought, where they simply uploaded what they produced for television, said Amritman Oli, the owner of A-one. But after an interview with Pant’s mother garnered over a million views on their YouTube channel, the number of videos about crime and murder spiked.
According to the site Socialblade.com, which tracks YouTube statistics, the number of subscribers for A-one Television has gone from under 100,000 in last August, which is when Pant’s mother’s interview was posted, to over 400,000 today.
Oli said that he, along with several other YouTubers in Nepal, pivoted to sensationalist content because of the high number of views and subscribers, which brings them revenue.
“There is not much money in local television, so the money from YouTube helps to a certain extent,” said Oli, without getting into the details of how much he makes off such videos.
Avinash Shrestha, an avid YouTube user, said that the amount of local content showing up on his page has increased significantly in the last few years. However, he isn’t always tempted to click on them because of what he’s seen in the past.
“There is no regard for the privacy of people who have been traumatised by incidents like rape,” said Shrestha, who manages an animation studio in Kathmandu. “I don’t know if Nepali content creators have knowledge about the ethics surrounding this or if they simply care about growing likes and views.”
Regarding Nirmala Pant, there are videos that call out the police for its apathy; accuse Pant’s neighbours of being involved in the murder; and pronounce their own verdicts. Viewers are losing patience, not just with authorities but also with YouTubers who spread such contradictory claims.
“They need to find out the culprit soon,” one YouTube user commented on a video that was titled ‘Revelation’. “There is no point just talking and making up this news. Useless police!”
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