Monday, September 14, 2009

Rumours, Lies and Social Media

It is rightly said that bad news, rumours and lies spreads faster than good news. Magnifying the speed a zillion times is Social Media. More than the speed, it is the erroneous opinion one tends to form about a person or event that makes it so damned dangerous.

I came across this post by Nassim Taleb wherein he accuses Guardian of distorting his views and comments on a particular topic. In this particular case though, one knows the source (Guardian) and what they represent. But is it realistic to expect to know the source of content always?

Theoretically, Social Media provides an equal platform for extreme views. But such is the power of misrepresentation (and Social Media) that more often than not the damage is done before one can react.

While the premise of this post is negative, it is with a reason. I do not want Social Media to become like 'traditional media'. Whatever be the debate amongst pundits about Social Media, I can confidently say that I am deriving enormous benefits from it. Social Media represents the hope that I have for getting information, knowledge and entertainment in a manner devoid of prejudices. Even if there were prejudices, it is out there in the open. This is not true of traditional media.

Traditional media(journalism) professes to be balanced, but that is hardly the case. For example, the newspaper that epitomised balanced journalism and which most Indians in the South like me grew up with is now increasingly sounding like Pravda. I continue to read it not because I am a leftist or that I have any sort of political inclination (far from it) The irony that is not lost on me is that the options to this paper are far worse. The reason for this deterioration in standards is pretty straight forward.

Media houses have sold their souls at the altar of rating points and readership. They are peddling conjectures and rumours as facts. Probably, the influence of electronic media and its inherent superficiality has a role to play. What is worse is that even the dead are not spared. I am not just talking about celebrities like MJ.

An incident that upset me and other like-minded Indians was the coverage of the murder of a 14-year old girl. The media circus that followed must be one of the most shameful episodes in India’s journalistic history. Indian media in collusion with the authorities tore that poor child’s name as well as that of her family to shreds. They reminded me of a pack of hyena’s circling an innocent prey.

I hope Social Media does not become an instrument to perpetuate social lie. Crap detection in Social Media is very easy. But for that we need to shake ourselves out of the habit (from time to time) of being mere passive consumers of information.

One cannot justify lies and rumours under the guise of freedom of speech. The enormous freedom and reach that Social Media gives us, comes with a rider. Responsibility!

(Image courtesy: somebody)


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