Social organizations, media houses and student communities in Assam are working to create awareness on responsible use of networking websites, in the aftermath of the recent lynching episode in the state, fuelled by circulation of rumours. Nilotpal Das (29), a sound engineer, and Abhijeet Nath (30), a businessman, were on June 8 pulled out of their vehicle at Panjuri in Karbi Anglong district and beaten to death by a mob, who suspected them to be child-lifters, following dissemination of fake news on social media.
The incident prompted a local media house to launch ‘FakeMat’ campaign here to increase awareness about the dangers of “rumour mongering” on digital platforms. The campaign aims to engage with the youth, who are active users of the internet, through various platforms like the digital and social media, outdoor and print media and on-ground activities, the managing director of ‘G Plus’, Sunit Jain, told PTI.
“I request people not to spread fake news as we have seen that such news can lead to tragic situations,” Assam Health and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, supporting the campaign. An online crusade has also been initiated by Gauhati University Postgraduate Students’ Union (PGSU).
“We have taken a pledge not to circulate unverified information, to create awareness among the backward sections, maintain peace and harmony in all situations and not take law in one’s own hand under any circumstance,” PGSU general secretary Monjit Sarma said.
Assam police had said in the past that student communities would be involved in creating awareness on social media use. The editor of web magazine ‘Thumbprint’, Teresa Rahman, along with others, have recently reached out to rural schools in the state to give them lessons in “judicious use” of online platforms.
“It is amazing that the school children are well aware of the business of fake news. We urged them to develop rational thinking and not allow social media to enslave them,” she said. Rahman also said that more rural schools would be brought under the ambit of the initiative in the near future and hoped that the students would in turn educate other members of their communities.
Post the lynching incident, the Assam police has upgraded and strengthened its social media presence by launching a special unit for cyber patrolling – ‘Nagarik Mitra’ – to thwart any attempt to spread hatred or rumours. Additional Director General of Police (Security) Harmeet Singh, who is in-charge of monitoring social media, said the “Assam police smart social media centre” would be a platform for “providing credible information” to the citizens.
“Social media has both positive and negative ramifications and our objective is to sensitize citizens against those who use social media for nefarious, anti-social and anti-national activities,” he added. Lurinjyoti Gogoi, the general secretary of All Assam Students Union, said they would soon launch a full-fledged campaign against any news that may “weaken” the Assamese society.
“Even now, many of our units at the grassroot level are conducting campaigns against harmful practices. But we will soon launch a full-fledged campaign across the state to ensure that quality value education are imparted to the younger generation,” he asserted. The campaign will focus on ensuring that students from all sections are better equipped to deal with any type of misinformation that can harm people and the Assamese society as a whole, Gogoi added.
Political and social activist Tinat Atifa Masood shared similar views. It is the responsibility of every citizen to make sure that they do not forward “anything and everything” to a group or an individual on social media as it could cost some people their lives.
“We demand that severe punishment be meted out to those who indulge in such acts, which will be a precedent for others who might be nurturing similar plans to create unrest in the future,” she added.
The lynching of the two young men in Karbi Anglong district had rocked Assam earlier this month, prompting Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal to personally monitor the progress of the investigation. Altogether, 64 people, including the prime accused, have been arrested so far for their involvement in the case.