VER so often an absurd piece of information tends to go viral and sparks theory construction on an epic scale. Most recently there is the example of a report, hosted on the World Bank website, which uses a model based on the stock of migrants in each country and their income levels to try and generate a guess about how much they would send back in remittances to their country of origin. The model mistakenly included all migrants from India who settled in Pakistan after Independence in its calculation and came up with the figure of $4.9bn as an estimate of the remittances they would be sending back to India. Since the report was hosted on the World Bank website, people took the number seriously. One television anchor even floated a conspiracy theory around this figure, fuelling all manner of lurid speculation about the reality behind this number.

The research presenting this data was released in December 2015, and has lived on in the media, rumour mills and social media space ever since, periodically popping up couched in astonishing claims.

Unfortunately for those who were partaking of this spectacle, the only reality behind this number is that it does not exist. It is a flawed guess because those who migrated from India and became Pakistani citizens after 1947 do not send back remittances. This absurd saga reached such proportions that the State Bank has just had to issue a formal denial of the figure and present the real remittance flows that go from Pakistan to India. Last year, this figure was $116,000.

The speed with which such ungrounded information can spread says something about the willingness, or desire, of people to believe it.

For years, another absurd number circulated suggesting that $200bn of Pakistani money was parked in Swiss Bank accounts, when the real figure was actually one-hundredth of that. These sorts of myths get sucked up very fast in our political culture which is saturated with disinformation and conspiracy theories as it is. Even when the absurdity of the figure is revealed, many people continue to argue in favour of its veracity because they have internalised it deeply and built large castles in their minds with its imagined implications. It is important that such disinformation not be allowed to circulate for very long, because its effects can go beyond humour and become pernicious the longer they survive unchallenged.

Source: Dawn Editorial (September 23, 2016)