Time to bell the cat

According to Aristotle, Democracy is the deviant or perverted form of polity, which is power going into the hands of a large number of people.

When Social Media came into being, it was considered to be a great leveller, taking power to the masses and to those who never had any say in governance. The so-called revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia etc were attributed to the power of Social Media and the power of the common man. However, the world realized that power cannot be distributed among the masses very lately.

Brexit is a case in point. Investigations in the United Kingdom revealed that most of the voters who voted against continuing in the European Union were influenced by fake news and posts on social media like Facebook and Twitter. Same is the case with the Presidential elections of United States during 2016, which was greatly influenced by foreign powers, namely Russia. Even though the alleged role of the President himself as a beneficiary could not be established, there is ample evidence to prove that Russian based agencies are involved in spreading targeted news items in social media, prior to the elections, which resulted in the surprise victory of Donald Trump.

With the increasing power of social media like Facebook and Twitter for sharing and spreading information and complete reliance on internet companies like Google for news, the status of traditional print publications is on the decline. It is an irony that while the search engines gather news from the traditional news agencies and publications and grow richer click by click, the actual agencies and publications are in the red economically and shutting shop.

Unlike the print publications, the online news portals, including that of the print publications, lacks any credibility as the news can always be taken away or edited whereas a printed matter will remain on record for years to come. Such convenience in editing or deleting information on the internet comes handy to spread false information and fake news, to instigate and incite people. Still, there are lakhs of people in this country who believes that if your bill is below Rs.1000/-, the GST is 12% and if it is above Rs.1000/- it will be 18%, courtesy a Whatsapp forward doing the rounds. There are several mob lynchings all over the country, suspecting innocents as child-lifters, due to fake news circulated through Whatsapp.

Apart from the convenience, there are many ways in which any fake news or misinformation can be planted on the social media and the internet anonymously, giving a boost to the activities of terrorist organizations and anti-national elements. However, it is to be noted with concern that not only terrorists but also the so-called liberals, ideologists and intellectuals are resorting to social media to spread anti-national sentiments.

After the bifurcation of J&K and repeal of the special status, these elements are active in spreading a false narrative and criticizing the internet blockade in J&K. Pakistanis and Pakistan backed and funded agents are having a field day on Twitter, spreading fake-news and doctored videos. Criticizing communication blockade, though for security purposes, is understandable but calling internet blockade as curtailing the means to communicate with near and dear is incredulous. Millions and millions of poor people in this country are in touch with their sons, daughters and relatives without having any internet.

Now even the liberals are at the receiving end of fake news and misinformation. Noted columnist Shobha De was at pains to refute the allegations that she was influenced by Pakistan to write about plebiscite in Kashmir. Whether the allegation is true or not, the damage has already been done to her reputation.

It is all about giving a level playing field. When people are not scared to reveal their identity while writing and voicing their views, why should those writing on the internet and social media be given the option to reveal their identity? This anonymity alone gives the freedom to spread fake news. There are several writers who voice anti-government and anti-national views in public. There were students in JNU who were never afraid of raising the slogan Tukde India. There is a spokesperson of a party who had the temerity to say “Kashmir was never an integral part of India” in an open and live debate in a channel. When these people can say anything against the nation without fear of repression, why should there be anonymity in social media?

Slowly but surely, those who are vociferous in peddling and supporting fake news will suffer by the fake news. This is the right time to put severe restrictions on social media and the internet, in order to curb the spread of fake news. Accounts in social media are to be verified through Aadhar or other government documents. Any website carrying news pertaining to India is to be allowed in India only if the ownership details can be verified by the Internet Service Provider and in the absence of this information, they are to be blocked.

Liberals may call it censorship of the worst kind but remember if a print publication carries an article containing false information, they can be tried in a Court of law but it is not so easy in the case of social media. These restrictions are in the larger interest of the country and its citizens. If the fake news is not curbed soon, it will be catastrophic for the society at large.

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