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Govt Needs to Step in to Curb Rumour-Mongering on Social Media

Social media emerges as a headache for the authorities as they tackle with rumours that can spur social tension.

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Social media is increasingly a headache for the authorities as they tackle with rumours that can spur social tension. (Photo: Rhythum Seth/ <b>The Quint</b>)
Govt Needs to Step in to Curb Rumour-Mongering on Social Media

Deaths due to rumours is the new normal in India, which is a matter of 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, and Twitter.

The Dadri mob lynching was the result of a rumour spread by people across social media platforms, especially WhatsApp, about the alleged consumption of beef by a family.

Seven people were killed in Jharkhand after the word spread that they were child kidnappers is another example of the extent to which rumours can prove costly.

Incompetent Law

The Information Technology Act 2000 regulates and controls social media and other online platforms. However, it is unable to control OTT (Over-The-Top) services such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Skype.

The IT Act, through Section 69A, authorises the government to issue directions to block any information, in the wake of a situation that compromises national security.

Complying with such a direction will now be impossible for WhatsApp in view of its end-to-end encryption.

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Dangers Posed by Social Platforms

WhatsApp groups have lately emerged as the mines of all rumours and fake news. A majority of people are a part of one or more WhatsApp group of friends, relatives and colleagues.

From a WhatsApp group, rumours spread and multiply at an exponential pace. And in a very short span of time, hours or days, they become viral. 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.

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Tackling the Menace of Rumours

Before it’s too late, the government should step in and initiate some form of regulation for social media platforms:

1) The privacy policy of WhatsApp states:

To improve performance and deliver media messages more effectively, such as many people sharing a popular photo or video, we may retain that content on our services for longer periods of time.”

This shows the double standards of WhatsApp; the government should put pressure to provide all such contentious photos and videos as that would ensure effective blocking of rumours.

2) Workshops by cyber experts should be arranged on a regular basis for the officials from IT and police.

3) IT cells must be set up which are active 24-hours-a-day and are easily accessible to people through a contact number, e-mail, and other means of communication, so that people may report about a rumour as it emanates.

4) A separate web portal must be set up by the government which should make people aware about the rumours which are trending across social media platforms.

5) 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.

This is the era of social media. With more and more people taking the digital route, perils of social hate can’t be ignored. Without proper intent, governments can’t take any action. Now is the time for the authorities to take action, else it will be too late.

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(The author is a researcher who likes to write on technology-related advancements. He can be reached @itisSK. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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