Rumours and Deaths
Deaths due to rumours is the new normal in India which needs to be given a serious concern. Almost all the riots, lynchings etc in the last 4-5 years have been stoked by rumours which spread through social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and many others. Notorious incident of Dadri mob lynching took place because of a rumour which was spread by people across social media platforms especially on WhatsApp about the alleged consumption of beef by a family, one member of which was later killed and one was injured by the angry mob. Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 in which 60 people were killed was also provoked by social media. Also, killing of 7 people in Jharkhand by the rumour of child kidnappers is the fresh example of the extent to which rumours can prove costly. It is not just about the rumours that pervade, but also about the extortionate pace with which they enter people’s lives which becomes the cause of confusions and violence.
Indian incompetent law
Information technology act of 2000 regulates and controls social media and other online platforms and internet service providers which are responsible for all the media and information available on social media platforms and over the internet. This act has been the subject of many criticisms and the need of some vital amendments has been raised time and again by the IT experts.
This act is not able to control OTT (Over The Top) services such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype etc which destroys the basic need for which this act was formulated. Presently, these companies can make big changes in their privacy policies without attracting any statutory action as no law is there which controls OTT services. IT act provides very powerful rights to the government in the name of article 69A which gives the government the power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource when government is satisfied that something which is shared on these sites is in compromise with the national sovereignty and security. WhatsApp being an intermediary is expected to comply with the direction to intercept, monitor and decrypt information issued under section 69 of the IT act, 2000. Complying with such a direction will now be impossible for WhatsApp in view of its end to end encryption. So, this law is good for nothing but just for a formality of having a law in place.
Why WhatsApp is the most efficient medium of spreading rumours among all the social media platforms
Although, all social media platforms have access to millions of people, but WhatsApp has been most successful of them all, because of its simple operating interface and it is operable on almost all mobile phones. Also, the pace with which the news spreads through WhatsApp is immeasurable, Facebook is somewhat open source and the number of times a news is shared can be kept track of. But, unfortunately extent of penetration of news through WhatsApp is beyond gauging. Also, as it is a more direct and personal way to communicate, the news is believed on by the people almost instantly and it is sent to them by their friends and relatives. WhatsApp groups are the mines of all rumours and fake news as almost every one is a part of one or more WhatsApp group of friends or relatives or colleagues. Rumours spread in a group multiply itself at an exponential pace. And in a very short span of some hours or days, rumours strike almost every phone. WhatsApp is the primary vector for the spread of misinformation in India . The instant messenger is fast, free, and runs on nearly all of India’s 300 million smartphones. It’s also encrypted end-to-end, which means it’s nearly impossible to track what flows through it. Its real-world ramifications, nonetheless, can be brutal.
Solutions to curb the menace of rumours
It is almost impossible to stop the flow of rumours, although awareness from the side of users can prove detrimental to the flow of rumours. Due diligence has to be paid by all social media users. They must share only that news which is authentic and if they are not sure about the authenticity, they must either check the news or refrain from sharing it among their friends and relatives. Precautions like these will serve better for the society as impulsive decision to share anything bubbling may fulfill the adventurous desires but it may lead to havoc in the society.
Many steps can be put forward by the government:
2. The police and cyber agencies set up by the government have been unable to trace the pattern of use of new media by miscreants. Workshops by cyber experts should be timely arranged for officials from IT and Police departments to keep them up to date with the new patterns of use of social media by the rumour mongers.
3. Setting up of cyber surveillance agencies which can forewarn about any such malicious intent and timely notifying in order to take suitable action.
4. Frame guidelines for telecom operators to prevent panic reaction and block harmful content on the internet and social media.
5. There must be immediate amendments in the IT act so that all the OTT services like Facebook, WhatsApp etc are also subsumed under the law.
6. With the help of cyber experts all over the country and the experts in other countries, an effective surveillance system must be put in place which checks objectionable content and suspends it’s transmission through social media.
7. IT cells must be set up which should be active 24 hours a day without an off day which should be easily accessible to people through a contact number, e-mail and other means of communication so that people may report about any rumour right by the time it emanates so that security agencies get some valuable time to prepare themselves and alert the people about the rumour. This is needed in all states of India and especially in rumour hit states like Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh etc.
8. A separate web portal must be started by the government which should make people aware about the rumours which are trending across social media platforms. People really believe in official statements and this will put a check on spread of rumours. Also, timely SMS and mails must be sent to people informing them about such rumours.
9. Police departments can access the mobile numbers of people residing in any particular area and can form WhatsApp groups according to their jurisdiction areas in which alert messages about such rumours can be spread.
Governments have been sluggish in responding to rumours and as a result, in last 4-5 years many people have lost their lives in scores of riots emerging due to rumours. One action which governments like the most is to switch the internet connectivity off in affected areas. Though it is effective in blocking rumours but for a very little time and sadly, by that time, rumour reaches to most of the people.
Prevention is always better than cure. Governments must emphasise on curbing riots like these instead of poorly managing the aftermath.
This is the era of social media, with more and more people becoming digital, danger of social hate had risen. Without proper intent, governments cannot take any action. Now is the time for the governments to take actions or it will be too late.