Technology, Rumor Mill and the Surveillance State

By the Editor: Siddharth Sehgal

I would have commented on the hug-antics in monsoon session of Parliament but there is much more need worthy issue that needs your attention as a reader.  In a short span of few weeks we have heard of mobs beating innocent people to death over messages that a child molesting gang was in there area to kidnap children. The addiction of people for a small app called ‘WhatsApp’ has resulted in several deaths that could have been easily avoided if someone would have stopped for a second or two to think. But how did we reach here that all it takes is a random message to kill other human being.

First, as Indians, we have an unhealthy addiction towards WhatsApp. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we missed a good morning message or did not share a funny cat or dance video. Most of the time, the messages are harmless but sometimes something disturbing do cross our eyes. What I have observed is that regardless of the content of message, we blindly forward it to connected people and group. This fact is also known to those who want to create trouble and malign our country. My point is that false messages can be planted. So, a little fact check before forwarding something is very much advisable.

Second, I don’t trust mobs, a mob has no religion, brain or direction, all it has a target. And that target can be anyone. If there is a perceived threat that mob believes exist then there is a high chance of encounter turning violent. In the deaths that happened in past few weeks, there was a pattern, a person gets a WhatsApp message that was blindly and dutifully forwarded to him, which he also most diligently forwarded to a group or person in his contact list. The message passes on to a lot of people and some zealous believers of everything that is shared on WhatsApp find something or someone that is suspicious in his eyes; he puts two and two together and calls reinforcements over same medium. The crowd gathers and without talking or asking any questions comes to a conclusion that what they read on WhatsApp and their fears were well founded. After that comes the bloodbath. Most of such acts have been committed in rural areas but frenzy is a fever that can grip anywhere. So, the bigger question is how can we stop this madness? First and foremost, Police, they are the only one who can save a hapless victim, I know many of you would want to blame police in such tragic episodes but believe me they are the only line of defense from a hysterical mob.

Second, the WhatsApp itself, you might have read in newspapers cautionary full page ads by the company appealing for caution and trying to distance itself from the blame. I think government of India is right in asking WhatsApp for a little censorship. I know it may sound bit controversial but sadly a lot of folks in my country aren’t mature enough to spot a difference between rumor and reality. Yes a little surveillance may not be bad after all.

All the countries in the world be it USA, China, Belgium or India have some form of electronic surveillance that monitor its general population. There is no such thing as privacy to be honest but when it comes to fake news or rumor mills that are, more often than not, deliberately planted; I think we should let the government do its work.

One Comment

  1. O K R Sivagnanam says:

    You’re right, sir.
    Sensitive issues always need caution when they are sought to be forwarded to others through Whatsapp!
    Matters of general interest and of routine nature can be shared with no harm and evil being perceived therein!

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