Hazards of Misleading Information on Social Media

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2013 – A forwarded Whatsapp video of the lynching of a two year old boy sparked riots in Muzzaffarnagar, India. While the video recording was of an incident in Pakistan, it was promoted as Hindu- Muslim rivalry act here.

2017 – On the suspicion of child lifting, nine people were killed in Jharkhand in three days. This was after a Whatsapp message was being circulated with the message below:

(Transcripted in English)

…Suspected child lifters are carrying sedatives, injections, spray, cotton and small towels. They speak Hindi, Bangla and Malyali. If you happen to see any stranger near your house immediately inform local police as he could be a member of the child lifting gang,”

The youth groups based in tribal-dominated East Singhbhum and Seraikela-Kharsawan districts, received whatsapp messages of child lifters roaming around Jharkhand. The rumour sparked so much fire that the crowd killed nine people just on the basis of suspicion.

It’s terrible that the value of human life is not even worth an authentication of news. The graphic pictures of the men pleading the mob for help and begging to listen to them is heart wrenching and more so because people trusted a digital print more than what they were saying. The effects of this incident also impacted Jharkhand where people believed it was communally motivated and protested in a violent manner.

A similar incident took place in Muzzafarnagar in the year 2013, when a video of a child being murdered was circulated as a video of Hindu Muslim rivalry. Soon after it got shared widely across the district and ended up with a riot.

True that we are largely dependent on digital mediums today and like to believe what is shared on social media. But is it not the responsibility of a user also to take the pain of verifying the news and then take action? It’s a fact that we share the virtual space with the creepy minds who exist only to spread hatred and false news. These are open platforms meant to share important useful information but certain profiles deliberately use these mediums for illicit purposes.

When the Jharkhand incident came to discourse, people also termed it as the curse of social media and ignored the incapability of people to distinguish between what is false and what is news. I also get the point that the crowd belongs to a rural belt where internet is accessible but the understanding and reception of messages is very different. They intend to believe all the information that they receive and respond to it as per their abilities.

The lynching of these nine people or the damage done in Muzzaffarnagar riots cannot be ignored by blaming just social media and its open nature of communication. The onus is also on the user who is spreading and receiving information.

What needs to be done?

While it is great that Internet is fast becoming accessible to all, it is a need to start spreading knowledge on filtering and understanding the information that is spread across the platforms.

Every time we come across any news or updates of the recent Jharkhand incident, the mind weeps and shouts for some common sense that people could have used. A rumor claiming nine lives is just terrible and we really need to ponder over the examples that the society is setting. The digitalization of communication must be used to increase the outreach of important messages and not the rumors. The police and the state must take the responsibility and not ignore cyber-crime complaints. The government on the other hand must ensure that our security and law enforcement agencies are well equipped with technical knowledge and force to combat cybercrime.

The platforms also need to frame stricter policies and mechanisms so that circulation of such messages can be controlled. Need is for the government and stakeholder to work together and devise strategies to curb the growth of hatred and misleading information in the virtual spaces.

And the users, they need to understand that social media is run by them and several others who have different ideologies, thinking, intentions and backgrounds. The way we are careful in real lives for our safety, security, information, we should be careful before we react on any sort of communications shared through digital platforms.

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