GUWAHATI: A series of violent incidents triggered by rumour-mongering in cyberspace has made the law-enforcement machineries in the Northeast focus on social media. There is a feeling that vigorous, round-the-clock patrolling of cyberspace is the only way out to tackle the menace.
Shillong was on the edge recently following a clash between Khasi tribesmen and migrant Dalit Sikhs. In Assam, two young men were lynched in Karbi Anglong on the suspicion of being child abductors. In both cases, social media was believed to be the culprit.
Nagaland DGP Rupin Sharma feels monitoring of cyberspace alone cannot prevent such incidents. “You can keep a hawk’s eye on all social networking sites but not WhatsApp. And, it is through WhatsApp that rumours are mostly circulated. So, I feel the only way out is we have to reach out to people. A large number of my officers are members of WhatsApp groups. This is helping them to keep tab on rumour-mongering,” Sharma told The Sunday Standard.
Recently, tempers were frayed in Nagaland over a video and audio clip showing a woman being hacked to death. Unidentified persons, who shared the clip, claimed the woman from Nagaland was killed in Rajasthan.
“As soon as we learnt about the video, we carried out an investigation. It revealed the video was of a woman in Brazil. We immediately put the information on our social networking sites,” Sharma said. “I am a member of 25- 30 local WhatsApp groups. I am everywhere, on Facebook, Twitter etc. I myself monitor social media regularly. Everybody knows how to reach out to me,” he added.
Former Assam DGP Mukesh Sahay says there will always be elements which will misuse technology. “It is being used by radicals for indoctrinating people, spreading their agenda and for recruiting people. Even the other extremists are using it. The large part of the internet is known as the dark net or dark web. We are not aware what is happening there.”
He insisted that the law-enforcement machinery has to catch up fast to pre-empt, prevent and punish people misusing social media. “As you physically patrol the streets, you have to patrol the social media. One big problem is that in cyberspace, there is no boundary or jurisdiction and most of the social media platforms are run from abroad,” he pointed out.
In the Shillong incident, the issue was amicably resolved. However, rumours circulated through social media triggering an outrage. Angry locals virtually held the picturesque city to ransom for a few days.
In Karbi Anglong, rumours over child traffickers were spread across villages through social media. A criminal, who had a tiff with the victims, took advantage of the existing panic among locals. He instigated them by saying that the duo was child abductors.
Combating fake news needn’t veer into censorship: Experts
NEW DELHI: In today’s changing times, consumption of news has shifted to the online platform. While it may be a good phenomenon, this has resulted in the extensive spread of fake information. With this in mind, The Sunday Standard spoke to a few cyber experts who are of the opinion that social media, especially in countries like India need a certain form of censorship but also fear that the censor would infringe upon the fundamental right of freedom of expression.
“In a country as diverse as India and on the brink of polarisation over various issues, it is important that people realise spreading false information is dangerous. We ideally need a law to censor fake information being circulated but that is not possible. The next best thing is punishment for the guilty,” Prashant Naidu, a Pune-based social media expert said. His views come in the backdrop of two recent incidents. Two youth were lynched in Assam after social media reported them to be kidnappers while curfew had to be imposed in Shillong following an altercation between a Sikh man and locals.
In both the incidents, the tensions rose after false information started doing the rounds on social media. Another expert, Neeraj Thakur, has a slightly different opinion. “Social media is one platform where the people can voice their opinions without fear. Enforcing censorship and laws will strangle their voices. What happened in Assam and Shillong is unfortunate but social media is not the only culprit. The ground situation is also to be blamed.” Pushkar Banakar