By Pradyut Hande:
Every sage invention is said to be a double edged sword. There is always a continual trade-off between existing and potential advantages vis a vis disadvantages that are capable of grossly undermining its beneficial qualities. The Internet and its latest “offspring” – Social Media – are no exceptions to this uncomfortable reality. A recent case in point is the proliferation of the highly inflammatory “satirical” report published by the American News Website – NationalReporter.netÂ on November 3rd. The report titled “The Assam Rape Festival in India Begins This Week” has gone viral given its provocative nature and tone.
Meant to be a satirical take on the security of women in the country, particularly Assam, or lack of it thereof; the article has ruffled many an already irate feather. For starters, the website in question blundered by failing to delineate the fact that it was a truly fictitious story to begin with. Consequently, the eye catching headline and subsequent story about “every non-married girl in the age group of 7-16 years having the chance to flee to safety or get raped” has led many to believe in its actual existence.
On the one hand, this incident highlights the ease and speed with which any story or news – whether true or false – traverses the entire length and breadth of cyberspace to literally create ripples across the globe. Modern day technology and communication channels have transcended physical and mental barriers to integrate the international community into a closer knit “global knowledge village“. The fact that these tools continue to evolve at such a blistering pace and facilitate penetration into newer markets whilst enhancing accessibility in existing markets; riding on the crest of rising socio-economic prosperity is a humbling thought. Information has become priceless and expensive at the same time. The urgency to disseminate, assimilate and communicate has never been stronger.
At the same time, this incident is also testament to the fact that in the absence of an authentic regulatory authority; even a frivolous figment of one’s imagination can catch the fancy of a fragmented, misinformed, fickle and often gullible global online community. At the end of the day, people will choose to believe what they want to believe. In such a scenario, the onus of offering factually correct information by a more responsible media assumes even greater significance. As far as this provocative piece of news is concerned, all it has sought to do is further tarnish India’s image in the international community for no apparent fault of hers. Granted the fact that crime against women in the country has been on the upswing and the concerned authorities have collectively struggled to address the same; but to concoct such a fallacious story in a sensationalist mould does no apparent good to any stakeholder. Apart from enhancing its popularity and creating a needless online frenzy, the NationalReporter.net has accomplished precious little.
It would also be prudent to note the role of consumers of such “news” as well. One would have thought that in an increasingly “information empowered” global fraternity, opinions would be more balanced and better sourced. However, we are often prone to fall prey to an “opinionated herd mentality” and thus, may tend to resort to blind belief in lieu of educated curiosity and verifiability. So the fact that this report was shared over 89,000 times on Facebook and over 1,000 times via Twitter comes as no real surprise. Instead of jumping the gun, buying into a story, expressing a misplaced opinion and sharing the same; it is highly advisable to exercise discretion, carefully corroborate such sensationalist information and only then make judgements.
For the record, the “news report” is a hoax. It may have been meant to be satirical but it has caused a major international controversy that could easily have been avoided had brighter minds prevailed. There is a lesson to learn for all the stakeholders concerned and the optimist in me hopes that this is actually the case.