So­cial me­dia pit­falls

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

in­for­ma­tion to spread like wild­fire, mask the old as the new, mix fact and fic­tion and ef­fort­lessly blur bound­aries. It says some­thing that the term used is “go­ing vi­ral”. In a city such as Karachi, that lives on its nerves — and for good rea­son, gen­er­ally — the spread of in­for­ma­tion through routes such as the In­ter­net and SMS text mes­sag­ing can be dan­ger­ous, given that not ev­ery­one stops to dis­cern be­tween fact and fic­tion, ‘olds’ and ‘news’, be­fore send­ing it on with an added fil­lip.

Be­fore you know it, ru­mours can end up be­ing taken as fact, of­ten sim­ply by virtue of the fact that they are be­ing dis­cussed ev­ery­where, with ev­ery­one adding an ‘it hap­pened to my mother’s friend’s cousin’s daugh­ter’ ac­count. The so­cial me­dia means that ur­ban leg­ends are able to claim larger and larger num­bers of vic­tims very fast.

Th­ese days, the scare go­ing around elite schools in Karachi is that a group of stu­dents was kid­napped from out­side their school. Sev­eral par­ents I know are con­se­quently keep­ing their chil­dren home.

I do not know whether any­one has tried to as­cer­tain the ve­rac­ity of this scare — though the num­ber of stu­dents said to have been kid­napped (around 50) — makes it sounds un­likely. But ef­forts have been made to trace the ve­rac­ity of two sto­ries of kid­nap­pings out­side a pop­u­lar café and a mall (not Dol­men Mall). It seems that th­ese ac­counts are based on ru­mours go­ing vi­ral.

Sim­i­lar seems to be the case with sto- ries about gangs roam­ing the elite res­i­den­tial sec­tors of the city, ab­duct­ing and raping young women. In some of th­ese ac­counts, an ex­pen­sive black car is said to be the ve­hi­cle used by th­ese gangs. But the cou­ple of ap­par­ently first-hand ac­counts that are at­trib­ut­able to spe­cific names (as op­posed to un­named pur­ported vic­tims) do not pro­vide de­tails con­vinc­ing enough to con­clude that the scare is any­thing but an ur­ban le­gend.

(In a sim­i­lar vein, some will re­mem­ber that well over a decade ago, an­other myth that hit the elite in ur­ban Pak­istan was that the streets were be­ing paced by gangs of men car­ry­ing sy­ringes filled with AIDSin­fected blood, ready to plunge into the arm of an “im­mod­estly” dressed woman.)

This is not to defini­tively say, ob­vi­ously, that no woman was ever as­saulted or no one was ever ab­ducted. The point is, though, that one or two in­ci­dents can spark off an ur­ban le­gend that, through the so­cial me­dia, spreads so rapidly as to be­come larger than its com­po­nent parts.

It’s an odd thing to have to say, but I’ve met of late more and more peo­ple from well-to-do Pak­istan, gen­er­ally women, con­fess­ing with some­thing be­tween de­fi­ance and em­bar­rass­ment that they no longer read the news­pa­pers or lis­ten to the news. This is to some ex­tent re­gret­tably un­der­stand­able, given that domestic news on any given day is guar­an­teed to de­press and dis­turb. But what that means is, they are also cut­ting them­selves off from cred­i­ble news sources.

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