Rampant misuse of social media was one of the main characteristics of general elections 2019. According to a study by Oxford University, between February 14-April 10, 2019 social media in India was dominated by fake news, half truths, warnings, etc. Out of 27,000 messages that researchers checked, it was found that majority of the fake news was meant to corner political opponents. More alarmingly, two major political parties of India namely the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were the biggest offenders, while the regional parties acted more or less sensibly by picking up publicity materials from established publishing houses.
It is meaningless to start an argument on which party indulged in fake news more. Rather, both the Congress and BJP should answer why they should not be punished for spreading fake news to lure voters? At the same time the law enforcing agencies, especially the Election Commission will have to answer on what actions they were taking to combat the misuse of social media? Did they punish any party or person for misuse of such a potent weapon? If not, are they ready to admit their mistakes in ensuring free and fair elections in the country?
It may be mentioned here that misuse of social media is not a new phenomenon in the country. During the last few years there were many instances of misusing social media. So, before the elections were announced the government had initiated steps to prevent it. Facebook, twitter, Whatsapp managements were in no uncertain terms told to take adequate precautions so that voters could not be influenced by social media. On their parts, the social media platforms assured the government that every single step would be taken to have a free and fair elections in the country. But as the report of Oxford University points out, it is evident that the social media platforms have failed to keep their promises made before the people of India.
Beyond doubt, social media is a boon. It helps us to reach to a large number of people in a very short time. It has a space for creativity too. It reduces distance; it has brought the entire world under one umbrella. In other words, it’s a blessing to mankind. But, sadly the greatest communication tool is now being influenced more by those people who can’t be called as friends of mankind. Recently, the Sri Lanka Government had to put a ban on social media as it caused communal tensions in that country in the aftermath of Easter Day bombings. It is difficult to understand why social media authorities cannot ensure any steps to prevent those who are trying to misuse it. It is time now for the entire world to understand that the social media has turned out to be a double-edged sword. If it is used constructively, it has all the potential to help mankind immensely. But if we allow people with vested interests to use it for their benefit, it will become destructive. So time has now come for the entire world to sit with social medial authorities to enact one model code. Time and again it has proved that self-imposed censorship cannot work. So, we need harder punishment for those who misuse social media to damage the social fabric of the world. Let us combat the threat from social media unitedly.