Stop believing in social media rumours, they cost lives

While the creators of the messages are never traced, innocent people are killed.

 |  4-minute read |   07-07-2018
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Five people were recently lynched in Maharashtra’s Dhule as locals suspected them of being child lifters. Such incidents are on the rise across India, to the extent that some are even terming our country “Lynchistan”.

The reason behind many such incidents has been rumour-mongering, which is proving to be as lethal as terrorism. Mob fury is very dangerous and cannot be controlled. When a mob goes crazy, often, even the police cannot stop them. By the time things return to normal, a lot is destroyed.   

Family members of the Dhule lynching victims have demanded justice. (Photo: ANI)Family members of the Dhule lynching victims have demanded justice. (Photo: ANI)

In the past two months alone, lynchings have been reported from across the country –Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Assam, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. 

Rumour-mongers can spark off panic over any situation. And once the arrow has been fired from the bow, it cannot be taken back. It is like forest fire – by the time officials work out a plan to extinguish the flames, they have already done severe damage.

A psychiatrist who works closely with the cyber-crime branch of the Mumbai Police explains: “These rumour mongers are full of hatred and negativity. They use easily relatable messages to spread panic. Once that panic has been triggered, they quietly enjoy the results. Some even do it just for fun. In all these cases, as the consequences play out, the person who actually spread the messages remains hidden.” 

Today, the Internet is easily available, and the product on which to use it – mobile phones – is getting cheaper by the day. Thus, the panic button is accessible to all. It is a matter of minutes to make up messages and put them on groups with hundreds of people.

While earlier, WhatsApp groups could have 100 members, the limit has been taken up to 256.

Also, times are such that people would rather believe WhatsApp messages than authentic news media. Some people have approached me asking why TV channels were not reporting some “news” they had heard through WhatsApp. Even after I tried to explain to them that the “news” was fake, they chose to believe the WhatsApp forward.

According to a top IPS officer in the cyber-crime department of the Mumbai Police, now, WhatsApp group admins can be prosecuted for rumour-mongering. If a false message is posted on a particular group, the group admin has to take action and delete the content, failing which he can be charged under the IT Act.

However, the officer clearly told said that tracking the source of a WhatsApp message is impossible. There is no method or equipment to know the original source of a message, and thus, the creator of the malicious message can roam free.

Rumour-mongering can be done over any subject, and the consequences are shocking. Earlier in Mumbai, there was panic after a message was circulated that an acute shortage of salt was likely, and its price could shoot up to Rs 500 per kg. People stormed shops to buy salt, some even looted stores for the commodity. Some turned to the black market.

In the '90s, news of idols 'drinking milk' had spread like wildfire. (Photo: India Today)   In the '90s, news of idols 'drinking milk' had spread like wildfire. (Photo: India Today)

During the Ganpati festival in Maharashtra, a WhatsApp message was circulated saying a Ganesh idol had been damaged by a particular group. Several areas in the state had to witness heavy police deployment after this.

The rumours of child-lifters are even more dangerous. People take utmost precautions for their children; they cannot let anything happen to them. A year ago, similar rumours had been spread in Mumbai, and some parents had stopped sending their children to school. Some stopped using the school bus, and would ferry their children themselves.  

So are these rumours spreading because of the widespread use of WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media platforms? No. People of the ’90s will never forget the time when claims of idols of Hindu gods “drinking milk” spread like wildfire. People bought litres of milk and stood in long queue outside temples. Even gods in foreign countries started having milk. Another rumour was that of coins sticking to temple walls. These incidents were widely covered by the media, Indian as well as foreign.

So, rumour-mongers basically play with the emotions of people. The only solution to this is that people should not panic, not let emotions run away with them.

Believe in your eyes and ears and general sense rather than such forwards. If you get such messages, don’t forward them to more people. You can directly call the local police, who will give you the right answer or at least verify the details for your satisfaction.

Because there is no other solution to stop rumour-mongering. One cannot individually trace them all. They do their dirty work and then silently withdraw, as innocent people perish in the fire that the rumours spark.  

Also read: Will the Accountability Court judgment end Nawaz Sharif's political career?


Saurabh Vaktania Saurabh Vaktania @saurabhv99

The author is a Principal Correspondent with Aaj Tak.

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