Close to 30 people have become victims of the lynching mobs in the last few months in India. The madness shows no sign of easing off. Most of these horrifying incidents have one thing in common – they were triggered by fake news about child-lifters; cow-smugglers; cow slaughter; desecration of religious places; and more. At least nine States have witnessed mobs going amok. There is no credible reason, other than fake news, for the mobs to go on the rampage.
In Assam’s Karbi Anglong district, two tourists were battered to death on the fake information that they were child-traffickers. In Tripura, a man who was engaged to alert people about the dangers of fake news himself fell prey to a lynching mob. In Jharkhand, seven were done to death on one WhatsApp fake news; in Bangalore, a man distributing chocolates to children was dragged on the road till he died; at least five were beaten to death in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on rumours; in West Bengal, a screen shot of a woman being molested led to communal riots. Actually, the picture was a shot from a Bhojpuri movie; a promotional video on child safety made by an advertising agency in Karachi led to violence 900 km away in Dhule in Maharashtra, causing death to five. Such examples go on and on… WhatsApp is becoming a killer App, taking many lives.
Social media has become an easy tool to spread hate and rumours on just about any subject under the sun – rapes, riots, religious desecrations and a lot more. It is not easy to track down WhatsApp messages as they can be read only by the sender and the receiver. Hence, authorities are in a fix in cracking down on fake news providers. WhatsApp has come out with full page advertisements to warn people to be careful about forwarding the messages they receive. Even the messages coming from a trustworthy source, one has to think twice before forwarding them. Twenty crore people in India are using WhatsApp. Even if a miniscule of them forward fake news, it can create havoc in the society. One should better check the veracity of the messages through google or other methods before sharing it.
However, the government should not take this situation as a ruse to tap or monitor citizens’ messages as it would lead to ‘surveillance by the State’ as pointed out by the Supreme Court while hearing a case in this regard.
It is not the ordinary folks alone who spread fake news. Political parties and their leaders do not bat an eyelid before doing the same. They avidly follow people who spread fake news, issue threats and use abusive language, giving rumour-mongers credibility and courage. Propagators of fake news get a boost when they are backed by Ministers. Recently Jayant Sinha, a Minister in Narendra Modi Government, was seen garlanding eight men who are convicted of lynching a meat trader in Jharkhand. Another Minister Giriraj Singh was seen meeting VHP and Bajrang Dal activists arrested in connection with communal violence in Bihar last year. In some of the lynching cases, the accused got bail in a matter of weeks; in another instance, the case itself was closed with the alleged perpetrators going scot-free. When lynching mobs get political patronage profusely, who will dare to bell the cat? Where garlands and hugs await murderers, justice will be the biggest casualty.(Published on 16th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 29)