By Ananya S Guha
Rumors of child kidnapping have led to vile murders in Assam in North East India and fomented community clashes in Shillong. The stories of child kidnapping had deleterious impact in Jharkhand, Karnataka, and some other states of India. The news of rumors on social media sites creating havoc and disrupting normal life is depressing, to say the least. Add to this the news of an international company, Cambridge Analytica, warming its way into privacy and private data of individuals through Facebook. Its unholy nexus with politics has resulted in a public spat between political groups and unending media discussions.
Social networking sites ostensibly began with reconnecting old friends, and developing a network of personal, social, business, professional, and academic relationships. At least that’s how one saw Facebook in its initial years. But sharing ceased becoming caring, and turned into spouting venom and hatred against people and communities one did not like. Now we have the phenomena of hate messages and campaigns. It goes without saying that such hate-mongering creates sharp cleavages of discord and divisiveness within society. What is most alarming is that there is a total disruption of healthy community consciousness. The paradox of the internet and the virtual world is this vicious double-edged sword. Making and breaking. On the one hand, there is information explosion; on the other, misinformation explosion, traducing all norms of an ethical conduct and code of living. Globalization becomes a myth and an antithesis because rumors spread in local areas, affecting life in a particular location.
Social media enables the vicious cycle of fake news, which can spread in minutes cutting across region, time, and space. If internet connectivity through the mobile phone has created wider spaces of information and knowledge, it has also shrunk those spaces in the most harmful of ways. However much we talk about education abetted by technology, e-learning, and online learning, this hasn’t led to a holistic education that can counter hate, prejudice, and bigotry. The misuse of technology and social media in the form of fake news is a criminal behavior.
The real world and the simulated world interact in strange, bizarre ways. To be connected with friends on social networking sites is both real and virtual. But where does the virtual end, and the real begin and the other way round? How does false news become real? What are these magnetic pulls of the internet which carries the seeds of destruction? Has lack of education and literacy got anything to do with it? Unfortunately, we find even educated people forwarding false information mindlessly.
We are in the midst of a social catastrophe. The parallel media of networking sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter are merged with the mainstream media in indistinguishable ways. Tweets splatter news headlines in opinionated ways. The other networking sites, apart from expressing opinion, spread the message of hate through vilification and rumor-mongering. There seems to be no place for love in the expanse of technology. It merely dredges up human atavism.
The fallacy is that we ALL are caught up in this technology propaganda dialogue, which culminates in vicious bouts of animosity and brigand like hostility. Individuals, politicians, the media are entrapped in this vortex of propaganda and false excitement. Instead of honing our finer instincts of well-being, social media incites our base passions.
The most dangerous trend seems to be the coalescing of the traditional media with the new media of social networking sites. Everyone is a citizen journalist! Everyone must aspire to be a responsible citizen, but the mantle of news journalism may not fall upon everyone. The excitement of technology is producing a crisis in technology-man interface. The moment excitement builds up, irrationality sets in. Instead of fostering innovation, the open spaces of the World Wide Web is subjected to its unbridled misuse – hate campaigns, slander, abuse, and vilification. Dialogue becomes a monologue, an impasse of ideas, a one way traffic to malign, impugn, and hate.
Ananya S Guha is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Travel: Cities, Places, People’, edited by Nishi Pulugurtha, academic, Kolkata, India.