[Nellie N Manpoong]
Easy and inexpensive access to technology, coupled with the Jio revolution, has resulted in a drastic increase in the number of users over the last year. With this, every other person in India is now enabled with the power of sharing information on social media platforms, and people are turning into citizen journalists.
There is no denying that citizens assist journalists by acting as sources and provide stories to reporters – sometimes personally, and sometimes through social media platforms. However, there is a general lack of ethics when it comes to sharing information or, in most cases, misinformation, through social media platforms.
To cite an example, when an accident takes place, there is little to no information on who the victim is, or on the cause of the accident. Many onlookers take insensitive photographs and upload them on Facebook or share it on WhatsApp with some information on where the accident took place, leaving the rest to the guesswork of the receivers of such messages.
In the race to get the most likes, shares and comments, citizens forget to double-check their facts and tend to forward medical ‘advice’. While some home remedies do help people, it is always advisable to seek a registered doctor’s opinion before experimenting.
We also cannot forget the more dangerous instances of messages in circulation about the presence of child lifters in “your area” which have resulted in the death of over 30 people in the country.
Experts from AltNews (a fact-checking website) say that the language and script in the messages keep changing from region to region. For instance, if a message is circulating in Maharashtra, it is written in Marathi; if it travels to Delhi, it is written in Hindi; Bengali in West Bengal, and so on.
There are criminals all over the place, but when a message like that is in wide circulation, it creates a fear psychosis. The experts say that fear does not come to roost overnight but is created through the changing environment, such as when people start guarding an entire village at night, establishing the “truth” of the message.
When there is already fear among people, the trigger to initiate action against someone is also oftentimes done by a person who is a history-sheeter, as was the case in Karbi Anglong, Assam, where two youths were beaten to death.
We also cannot leave out political parties who indulge in mudslinging and sharing disinformation to make the opponent party look bad in the general public eye and in turn gain political points for themselves.
People do not expect false statements or photographs from political parties or other credible corners, but they do circulate such materials intentionally or unintentionally.
Not only can sharing misinformation land a person in legal trouble, it can have serious repercussions on the people involved as the message keeps circulating further on.
We as citizens need to learn to be more responsible with our words, the information we pass on to others on the worldwide web, and the consequences of it, before we hit that ‘send’ button.
If you are using the internet as a tool to pass your messages across the country and the world, it is essential that you use the tools available on the internet to verify your data, as well. But before all that, use your common sense. Always verify your messages and posts before you pass them on. There is every possibility that you may become the next victim of some hoax news on the social media.