As mass protests swept Sri Lanka over a crippling economic crisis, a purported tweet from India's foreign minister offering the island nation the chance to become "a state of India" circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp. However, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka said the post was "fabricated". A closer analysis found the misleading post lacked various features seen in a genuine tweet.
"If the people of Sri Lanka are agreeable, India is willing to proclaim that Sri Lanka becomes a State of India," reads the purported tweet shared on Facebook on April 20, 2022.
"As a result, India will be able to solve the gas, fuel, milk food, fertilizer and many other essential goods problems that the country is facing.
"Additionally, India will look after all the future issues of Sri Lanka too. India is extending an hand (sic) of survival to people of Sri Lanka."
The message features the profile picture of India's Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar and part of his Twitter handle.
Cash-strapped Sri Lanka secured a billion-dollar credit line from India to buy food and medicine, officials said on March 18, as the International Monetary Fund said it would discuss a possible bailout.
The South Asian nation has been plunged into its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948, sparking mass demonstrations and calls for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign.
The Sinhala-language Facebook post alongside the screenshot reads: "Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse".
Screenshot of a Facebook post sharing the doctored tweet, taken on April 25, 2022
Some social media users appeared to believe the posts showed a genuine tweet.
"The cat is finally out of the bag! It wasn't without reason that India rushed in to help us," one person commented.
Another said: "Even if it's unpatriotic, I will vote in favour of this move. Our rulers have failed us".
However, a representative for the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka said the image was "completely false and fabricated".
"We strongly deny the contents in the image," the spokesperson told AFP.
The Commission tweeted that "mischievous attempts by desperate parties" would "never succeed in affecting the close, friendly and age-old ties" between the two countries.
AFP found the message shared in misleading social media posts lacks various features of a genuine tweet.
The fabricated tweet features a downward arrow in the top-right corner (circled below-left) while a genuine tweet shows three dots (circled below-right):
The doctored tweet includes more than 380 characters -- exceeding Twitter's character limit of 280 characters.
As of April 26, AFP found no trace of the purported tweet on S. Jaishankar's profile.