Home / Opinion / Beware of the deceptive world of social media

“The government can’t make people love me, but it can keep them from lynching me." While vacationing in Europe’s verdant valleys, one of my friends was reminded of these words by Martin Luther King, Jr. The reason? Time and again he was asked in a veiled manner whether Indians were a nation of rapists and blood-thirsty people. In response, he narrated glorious stories right from our ancient civilization to modern-day economic progress, to no avail.

The reason behind this humiliation was the report by Thomson Reuters Foundation in which India was ranked as the most dangerous country in the world for women. Needless to say, he returned home to India with a heavy heart.

Now, consider the news developments last week. A man who flaunts his devotion to Lord Rama on his Twitter bio, threatened a lady spokesperson of the Congress and tweeted: “I want to rape your daughter. Send your daughter to me." I was shocked when I read this. How can somebody who calls himself a devotee of Rama, write or even harbour such shameful thoughts? Rama is a symbol of dignity in Indian culture. Anybody who carries out such a threat on Twitter hasn’t just betrayed Rama, but is also a coward. As soon as the Mumbai Police registered a case against him, he closed his account and disappeared. The man has since been arrested. But the question is, do these irresponsible individuals realise the extent of disservice they are doing to the country’s image?

It isn’t that the targets of these miscreants are limited to politicians in the opposition. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was also in their cross-hairs. In the case relating to Lucknow’s Tanvi and Anas, while replying to a tweet, the kind of humiliation that trolls heaped on her is something even her enemies won’t agree with. Swaraj has always acted with dignity in her political journey. Such vicious attacks on her can evoke feelings of dismay and shock.

The unfettered flow of such impure thoughts is like a rainwater drain that cannot discern the difference between good and bad. It can only wreak havoc.

The consequences of such actions can be enormously destructive. One example of this is the violence that is being unleashed in different corners of the country. Twenty two people have lost their lives owing to rumours in the last two months. Consider this frightening example. Two nature lovers were roaming in the forests of Assam trying to record the birdsongs that fascinated them. Suddenly a mob encircled them and began assaulting the two. The aggressive group of people kept calling them child-lifters. They clarified and pleaded showing them their addresses. But the mob kept assaulting the two friends till they died. One of the victims to meet an untimely death was a promising engineer. Incidentally, hundreds of kilometres away, in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, a similar dance of death was being enacted. At both the places, the reason for the bloodshed was the same: rumours of child-lifting. In the name of the safety and well-being of one’s own children, how can one kill the children of others or turn their loved ones into orphans? The cycle of rumours and murders didn’t stop here. Just the names of the victims, the locations and the nature of rumours kept changing. This is the scourge of social media.

Looking at the grim situation, the Supreme Court was compelled to make strong remarks against state governments. The ministry of home affairs also tightened the screws on the states. Law and justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad turned the heat on social media corporations as well. The mortified managers at Twitter said they would adopt a zero-tolerance policy against trolling, abuse, fake news and spam on the social media platform. To begin with, 10 million such accounts have been shut down as on May 2018. This is an increase of 214% over last year. The company spokesperson claims 30 significant changes have been carried out. As a result, close to 50,000 fake accounts are being detected every day. The initial findings are shocking, but they also tell us how we are becoming victims of the peddlers of deceptive and dangerous ideas.

The time has come when citizens who use social media don’t react to anything they see, hear or read before verifying the facts. Your common sense can save someone’s life, prevent a woman’s dignity from being tattered and play a role in protecting a nation’s reputation.

So, don’t delay this any longer. There is no point in keeping quiet and leaving this battle to the government. You and I will have to take the initiative, since the victims of these perpetrators are people like us.

Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan. His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin

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