Prime Edition


V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

There’s an alternative to social media ban

Instead of banning Facebook and Twitter, government should use them to disseminate information.

Police chases demonstrators near a torched vehicle outside CST Station after a protest against Assam riots turned violent in Mumbai last week. PTI

e never seem to learn from others' experience while trying to improve our security management. History tells us that rumours and technology always create serious security problems. The 1943 "Detroit race riots" (34 deaths, mostly African Americans) were exacerbated by rumours that an African American woman and baby were thrown over the Belle Isle bridge and a white woman was raped and murdered on the same bridge. Since this was during the Second World War, another rumour was spread that the Axis powers had influenced the African Americans through Japanese Americans to "disrupt the war effort". The six-day 1992 Los Angeles "Rodney King" riots (53 deaths) were fuelled by repeated TV images. The 2005 Paris "civil unrest", which spread to 274 French cities, had started over rumours that two North African immigrant boys got electrocuted while escaping the police. Fuelled by faster communications, the 2006 "Danish cartoon" issue caused riots in 12 countries including India, resulting in at least 200 deaths. Social media had come in for sharp criticism during the August 2011 England riots. A fake photograph of "London Eye" (giant Ferris wheel) burning was circulated, much like the "morphed photographs", now a contentious India-Pakistan problem. The UK Guardian quoted the Manchester police as saying, "Fifty masked men going down Regent Road — and we don't find them. Gang of youths on their way to Salford Quays — don't find them." A MET commander (London) said that information from social media, 999 calls and reports from their own officers overwhelmed them.

In such a background, our Central security management appeared confused while handling the chain of events starting with the early July clashes between the Bodos and the "others". Had they studied the July 2012 "Rakhine state riots", which our foreign intelligence agencies must have reported, they would have known that the festering Rohingya problem, much like the Bodo-immigrant issue, had aroused strong feelings among Muslims all over South Asia. Did our Ministry of Home Affairs alert the state governments about this aspect? The Rohingyas had always tried to sneak into our Northeast, according to former BBC correspondent Subir Bhaumik. The Rakhine (Buddhist) vs Rohingya clashes so angered the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) that for the first time they issued a threat on a non-Pakistan or non-Afghanistan issue, according to PTI (26 July). Noted reformist Asgar Ali Engineer observed, "It was, as if, in store, large scale propaganda was going on that Muslims are being killed all over the world. There is conspiracy to kill Muslims everywhere and on Bodo-Muslim clashes and about Rohingiyah Muslims in Burma prayers were being organised in every mosque and SMSs were circulating about it. Urdu papers were carrying articles saying there is world-wide conspiracy to kill Muslims."

It would appear that the MHA issued its advisory to the states only on 14 August, after the 11 August Mumbai Azad Maidan riot and the Pune attacks on the Northeast population. Again they waited until 17 August before banning bulk SMSs, when the flight from certain cities had already started. Then we were informed that the origin of the morphed photos was Pakistan. An NDTV report (19 Aug) said that these photos were in circulation since 13 July, around the same time when the Assam clashes started. Did our technical intelligence services detect this and alert the MHA? If so, why weren't the state police, including Mumbai, Pune or Bangalore police alerted before 11 August? Now the government wants to solicit US government help to rein in US based social media. Getting social media to cooperate is not easy: the New York city police had to wait for five days to move court when Twitter refused their request (3 August 2012) to give them information on a subscriber who had threatened to shoot 600 people in a theatre on the same lines as the Colorado massacre (20 July).

Instead of banning Facebook or Twitter, why cannot our government communicate correct news through them to dissuade the public from believing in rumours or morphed photos? In 2010, the Queensland Police (Australia) successfully used the social media to reach out to 200,000 Queenslanders who were in the danger zone and dispel apprehensions about a flood emergency. The Essex police (UK) used this method very successfully to quell rumours during last year's England


iTv Network : newsX India News Media Academy aaj Samaaj  
  Powered by : Star Infranet