Data consumption through the internet has exponentially increased in recent years with easy and high speed internet access made possible with stiff competition among service providers and the availability of a wide range of mobile devices at low prices.
The internet is a powerful tool that the modern world cannot do away with now. However, mankind is yet to fully comprehend whether this constant commune with cyberspace through keyboards is helping in the evolution of man as a species. The scenario reminds one of the Infinite Monkey Theorem and the reflections made upon it by artificial intelligence scientist, Robert Wilensky, who jocularly remarked, “We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.”
In practical terms, it can be said that the barrage of information shared and spread over the internet by millions of users tend to incline towards cacophony, falsity, or disinformation rather than creating a unique piece of art.
The recent incident at Telipati, Imphal East appears to be exaggerated and there were more rumours about the issue than plain facts when it got circulated. Social media has the potential to spread fear and hysteria that may, in turn, fuel violence from the hands of vigilantes who deem themselves as the judge, jury, and the executioner.
While taking stock of the situation, Chief Minister N Biren made a serious appeal not to exaggerate the issue on social media, before clamping 144 CrPC for a month in the Telipati area. Breeding hate in social media has caused many incidents of violence in the country. Its social and political ramifications do us more harm than good and can cause irreparable damage.
Interestingly, Wikipedia has a page titled “Indian WhatsApp Lynchings,” which details some of the mob violence and killings caused by the circulating of rumours on WhatsApp.
While the reliability of the online encyclopaedia remains debatable, the fact remains that rumours, misinformation and fake news on the internet have led to the loss of many lives.
Although the monkeys failed to produce any work of Shakespeare during an actual experiment, it seems that keyboards connected to the internet have a special appeal to the simian side of our human brain and tend to bring out that violent, animalistic behaviour in man. But it is not all about going ape on social media, as forwarding of messages without checking facts has always been an issue. This has been witnessed again with the case of MSPDCL cautioning consumers to be wary of a viral hoax message about disconnecting electricity due to bills not being updated.
As sharing of fake news and misinformation has become a widespread phenomenon, WhatsApp has introduced a limitation by restricting messages with a ‘forwarded label’ to only five chats at once and ‘highly-forwarded messages’ to just one chat at a time. Although these measures are highly welcomed, more needs to be done in this regard. Raising awareness about the dangers of spreading false information; encouraging people to learn fact-checking skills and teaching netizens about the judicious use of social media can be considered.
Concerning the issue with Khurai Ahongpung, the matter has to be settled through dialogue; not by shouting from the rooftops or social media platforms to come out and commit mob violence. Spewing bile and breeding hate over the internet with half-baked knowledge can be fatal, as they say, little knowledge is dangerous. The wise move here would be to mount pressure on the authorities concerned to urgently resolve the matter before the situation turns more volatile and things go out of hand in the near future.
(The views expressed are personal)