Millennium Post

Mass paranoia through the web

India is still to give sufficient proof of particular elements in Pakistan generating mass paranoia which triggered the mass exodus of people of the Northeast origin from cities like Bengaluru and Pune. India has claimed that groups or organisations with vested interest had circulated mass SMSes and MMSes and used social networking sites to fan fear among people of Northeast origin and as a result thousands fled the cities in what was seen one of the worst cases of mass exodus in recent memory. In fact if the proof is available, India should not waste any more time in handing it over to Pakistan, especially when its interior minister Rehman Malik has promised to look into it from his side.

Talking of cybercrime and malpractices that make use of mass technology or the easy and cheap availability of social media networks to create hatred and fear, it is neither new nor original. The worldwide web comes with the inbuilt advantage of being able to reach thousands, even millions at the press of a button. We have seen how it could be used for political purposes when the entire Arab Spring was said to have been triggered by messages, updates and instant connection through social networking web sites, like Twitter and Facebook. Without them, commentators have more or less agreed, the Arab Spring, which for good or for worse, threw out a number of self-serving and autocratic governments out, would not have happened with the kind of speed and mass participation that it eventually did. In this sense the openness and frankness of social media was appreciated, even deified. And it continues to be so.  In the current case of mass exodus, the intent and the results have been different, even opposite. But, here also, the same openness has been exploited cheaply. That is very regrettable and distasteful. India, unlike say China, follows an open web policy ensuring that the government is in no position to manipulate or control the dissemination of information over the web. And as a democracy neither it is acceptable. But if rogue elements utilise the same for purposes of creating mass paranoia, then they have to be dealt with very seriously. Not only should India hand over evidence swiftly but should also act to see, if there were any Indian base from which such miscreants were operating.

The power of social media and communication technology cannot be underestimated and neither can one throw away its advantages and empowering capacity to stop such nuisance. But at no point should the government even consider coming down on the existing openness of the web. That would be like throwing the baby away with the bathwater.
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