Chandrakant 'CK' Isi
07th Oct 2012
A couple of weeks ago, pictures depicting the slaughter of Muslims in Burma (now Myanmar) started popping up on Facebook. These images then spread like wildfire on social networking sites, and have been directly blamed for inciting the recent riots in Mumbai and exodus of eastern-origin people from other cities in India. The situation became so grave that the government recently imposed a ban on over 250 sites found to be directly responsible for starting the rumours.
One thing that has become clear from this incident is that the slow and lumbering government machinery is simply unable to keep pace with the swift developments that occur in the social media space. Barely a handful of politicians are probably even aware of what the whole "internet" fuss is about, and even fewer are tech-savvy enough to use this medium to their advantage. As a result, the authorities often wake up too late to react to events that take place in cyberspace, and when they do react, it is often through a blanket ban on communications that effectively throws the baby out with the bath water and tramples all over our right to free speech.
Social networking has caught on like nobody's business, and it's safe to say that practically all of the educated and internet-enabled youth in India is on FB, trying to make fraandship with each other (and especially the opposite sex). However, this also leads to a situation where false news and misinformation spreads more quickly than ever before. A few years ago, people used e-mails to spread hoaxes about the little girl dying of cancer who would get money each time the mail was forwarded. With the advent of Twitter and its real-time tweets though, the ability to fool people and make them forward fake news stories seems to have received an exponential boost.
However, we have to ask ourselves: is it really that easy to get taken in by hoaxes, when all the information in the world is just a web search away? How difficult is it to verify the veracity of such claims? Now, while you can ask me anything about the latest smartphones or tablets in the market and get an immediate response, I'm no expert when it comes to current affairs or politics. I barely ever read the paper or news websites, so if finding the truth is easy for a clueless guy like me, it should be pretty easy for any other internet user as well. Here's what I did to test that theory:
- Saved all the images in question from Facebook on to my PC — something pretty much anybody who uses a computer can do.
- Used Google's "Search by image" feature: to do this, go to images.google.co.in and click on the camera icon in the search box — also a pretty easy task, and Google's image search feature is quite popular.
- Clicked on the Upload an image link, browsed to where I'd saved the images, and double-clicked one of the images — again, easy as halwa (or barfee, depending on what you like).
Now wasn't that easy? With these simple steps, I was able to find — within the first few results itself — that some of these images were actually from 2004. More importantly, the images of the dead bodies weren't even from Burma! Here are a few examples from this search. The following image portrays the Buddhist monks as mass murderers (kindly ignore the bad spelling).
Ironically, these monks are actually helping in the relief efforts after 2010's massive earthquake in China. Click here to view the original article and image.
Here's one more misleading image:
And here's the original, similarly unearthed in less than a minute using the Search by image feature described above. The image is not of a massacre but of demonstrators being rounded up and arrested by the Thailand army.
The images speak for themselves — clearly, some people are misleading the masses, and effectively using social networking platforms to propagate their lies. YouTube and Facebook have pointed their fingers at Pakistan, saying the rumours seem to have originated from there. The Indian government is so eager to show that it is taking some action (after all the damage has been done), it's tripping over its own feet and grandly proclaiming this as the "biggest instance of cyber warfare on India in recent times", blatantly overlooking the havoc wreaked by Anonymous during its fight against internet censorship.
In the midst of all this madness, it's up to us internet users to not get carried away by false propaganda and inflamed emotions. The next time you see any sensational news on Facebook, please don't forget to check the facts first before hitting the Share button. After all, the truth is only a web search away.
Let us know your suggestions to combat the menace of hoax messages on social networking sites. Is the government justified in blocking the entire site, like it is threatening to do in the case of Twitter?
TechTree Blog: How Facebook Was Used To Fuel Anti-Northeast Sentiments
Thanks to the social networking age, spreading rumours has never been this easy!
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