Millennium Post

Safeguarding social media

Old Uncle Ben had responsibly warned Peter how 'with great power comes great responsibility'. Now, exiting the ambit of superpowers, an intricate understanding of the statement is imperative – probably because of the influx of power in the contemporary world. Power to reach out to the masses, for one, is a very great and, at the same time, very serious capability. Media and technology have extensively grown to cater to large audiences, bringing them together — connecting the entire world in essence despite the physical divide. Making telephonic conversations redundant, video chat and instant messaging have plagued the world with an average human spending at least two hours a day on their phones. That is the impact social media has harvested in the second decade of the 21st century. Seemingly reaching the pinnacle of its services, social media has revolutionised the expression of masses. Information, once transferred over pigeons and letters, has now spread to large numbers through the touch of a button – quite a remarkable ability. However, as beneficial as it can be, profiting every individual by its feasibility, it is equally susceptible. It is here that we realise how things developed for our good can be utilised to afflict damage. For instance, WhatsApp in recent times has been the bedrock for mob-lynching across the country. The sheer easiness with which fake news is spread to incite a crowd is a matter of extreme distress. One will not need a first-hand account to discern how catastrophic misinformation can be. Anxiety and fear are easy to regulate, especially when people are sensitive. As witnessed, misinformation has led to several instances of mob-lynching. Fake news is infectious and it rides on sentiments which usually push people to the edge, resulting in drastic outcomes. Humour becomes dark humour and results in the loss of life. A person may not be at fault but there is little that s/he can do in front of a misinformed and exceedingly incited crowd. So, when we realise the extent of social media influence in our lives, we ought to safeguard it for there are people (as always) who will exploit it for revenge, a sadistic mindset or even fun. And that is exactly what the government intends to do in case of social media misuse. It plans to amend the IT rules that govern the use of social media in a way that it is efficient enough to 'identify' and curb unlawful content while following a stricter framework. In the wake of several fake news incidents, as well as the upcoming general elections of 2019, the draft amendment suggests a number of ways to regulate the use of social media. Not just regulate it, the government wants social media companies like Facebook, Google, WhatsApp to have a permanently registered office in India with a physical address and also appoint a nodal officer in India for round-the-clock coordination with law enforcement agencies to ensure due compliance. The draft recommends that these social media platforms deploy technology-based automated tools or mechanisms with apt controls for identifying as well as eradicating unlawful content with precision. As emphasised in July by IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, the government's resolve to strengthen the legal framework and make social media platforms more accountable under law seems to be in action. However, it is important to realise that despite the regulations in place, adversaries have a way of going around things to inflict damage. It, therefore, must be in the best interest of these social media platforms themselves to strengthen their interface, especially given India's massive market size. The government's efforts — draft amendment, meeting with stakeholders (Facebook, Twitter, Google) and public feedback — is the best way forward for safeguarding social media on account of national security.

Since social media is popular amongst the youth, awareness programmes regarding the use and misuse of the same have been suggested for schools to ensure that the younger generations grace technology with responsibility. Fake news is the pertinent cause for this, however, cyberbullying, blackmailing, pornographic content, et al are issues that demand awareness through education. Children's naivety may result in grave consequences should social media be exploited in adverse ways. WhatsApp on its part did introduce the 'forward label' to let users know of a forwarded message that can carry potential misinformation. Clearly, that is not enough. While the government undertakes a massive overhaul in the IT rules to safeguard social media usage, it is up to the audience to realise and contain the responsibility it has in influencing masses. The bottom line can be to not consider, or promote, something that one will not wish upon oneself, and to act rationally as far as technology and media are concerned.

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