Social media and mass hysteria

In the last few days several cases of innocent people being beaten to death on the mere suspicion of their being child lifters have been reported – from Uttar Pradesh to Karnataka to Assam. This expression of mob fury leading to lynching is a recent phenomenon and can take many forms. The mob may target someone suspecting he has stored or eaten or was carrying beef. The mob may target couples of different religions who are legally married. Defenceless women and girls are often the target of the deviant or hate-mongers. The rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua exposed not only the depravity of the persons directly involved in the crime but of a large number of men belonging to the legal fraternity who, instead of helping the law to take its own course, did their level best to obstruct the course of justice.
The lynching of two young men in Assam betrays a propensity for violence and murder on any pretext. One of the two youths was a sound engineer and another a businessman who had been on a trip to the tribal district of Karbi Anglong and were reportedly enjoying the scenic beauty at a Falls. For no apparent reason, they were suspected to be child lifters and an angry mob set upon them. When they tried to flee in their car they were chased for miles, ultimately caught and beaten to death.
Social Media has been accused of spreading rumours about the presence of child lifters, adding to the fear and excitement. Social media is now being systematically (mis)used for spreading rumours that ignite communal passion, or create mistrust between communities or for subjecting individuals to ruthless ‘trolling’ and venomous attacks. The right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution and is held dear in every democratic society. But no freedom can be allowed to degenerate into license especially if it disturbs social peace and causes social disharmony. The law relating to cyber crimes need to be suitable amended and stringent punishment provided for those who spread provocative lies and hatred through the social media. A few arrests, prosecutions and exemplary punishment will go a long way to discourage those doing this. Organized spreading of fake news and fake photographs also should be made actionable offences. The recent fake photo of former president Pranab Mukherjee wearing an RSS cap and standing in attention with an RSS salute had shocked many till it was known that the photograph was fake.

Thursday, 14 June, 2018