“With great power comes great responsibility.” This quote by Stan Lee, is one of the most iconic and cliched quotes of all time. Definition of power has evolved throughout the history of mankind. During the hunter-gatherer days, brute strength was power. Progress in science and technology eventually established intellectual faculties such as creativity, communication as power. And the digital age today has further reinforced the power of communication. In this article we shall examine some cases of this power abuse, the consequences and the actual responsibility inherent.
Case I: Death of Sujita Bhandari
On 4th July 2021, 23 year old Sujita Bhandari was found dead in the community forest of Chitwan, nine days after her disappearance. Despite police’s suspicion on suicide being communicated by major newspapers, the “rape and murder case” became an instant hot topic on Nepali social media and YouTube. In a country already enraged with multiple unsolved rape and murder cases of teenage girls in the past decade, this news was quick to stir rage in the minds of people. YouTubers weaved multiple stories, or one might even call them conspiracy theories now, regarding kidnapping and the method of killing involved. Here’s one such video that has gathered near 250k views. The enraged protestors chanted slogans, blocked the highway and initially didn’t allow the dead body to be taken for autopsy. A curfew had to be imposed to deal with the mob.
The preliminary investigation made by the police revealed a completely different story from what the social media had so eagerly fanned till then. Based on the facts revealed in the investigation, the police have concluded that Sujita had committed suicide. The investigation revealed the cause of suicide to be distress due to the potential failure of her love affair with her first cousin on the grounds of morality and social acceptance.
Now if we look back on the claims made in the YouTube videos along with those clickbait thumbnails and misleading captions, it’s clear that those were the attempts to cash in on a trending news. But their attempts to increase traffic to their channel resulted in mob rage, curfew and could have resulted in loss of evidence from the crime scene due to. Past cases of mob lynchings from all over the world have shown us the extent of destruction misled mobs are capable of. An example would be the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots in UP, India, fueled by disinformation circulated on WhatsApp, which left 60 people dead and thousands displaced.
Case II: Naya Patrika’s advertisement of Coronaguard
On 15th July 2021, the front page of Naya Patrika, a major national daily of Nepal, had an advertisement about Coronaguard, a device that claimed to destroy coronavirus in the air, in the lower right corner. Interesting thing about this advertisement was that it didn’t look like an advertisement at all, but a regular news article. A careful inspection of the “article” reveals the word bigyaapan, which in Nepali means “advertisement,” written below the caption. The “article” was about how the device has made it convenient to run organizations and offices.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with it. The paper has mentioned that it’s an advertisement. But whether this act upholds the standard practice of journalism is a question. The journalism ethics clearly state that news and ads must be presented in a way that they can be easily differentiated by the readers. In this case, however, it is not so. The structure, style of presentation are no different from the other articles on the page. Readers who are used to skimming the captions won’t notice the bigyaapan label.
Scientists have clearly refuted the claims made by the makers of such devices and have cautioned people against such elaborate scams that claim to cure or prevent COVID19. How responsible is it of the media to promote a product making false claims of preventing a disease that has claimed millions of lives? And disguising promotion in the form of a news article to deceive the readers? This is an act of disgrace in the name of the media.
Case III: Amitabh bachchan’s tweets on covid-19
Renowned Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan has been known for his active presence on Twitter. Recently, he has garnered more attention as a superspreader of disinformation. Let’s have a look at some of his tweets from 2020. On one instance, he shared a fake image that showed a satellite view of India as a bright spot on the globe on the night Indians switched off the lights and lit candles on PM Modi’s call. This was a rather harmless case though. Later he tweeted about Covid-19 being spread by flies based on unverified claims on the Internet. You can have a look at the tweet below.
He had also promoted a fake website as a coronavirus dashboard through his Twitter handle. You can see it below.
Amitabh Bachchan has a credible public image of being a wise and knowledgeable veteran actor, thanks to his frequent recitations of poetry, hosting of the popular show Kaun Banega Crorepati and reading habit. Let’s think about the consequences of him sharing disinformation through his twitter handle that has more than forty million followers. Most people will retweet him without any second thoughts. Imagine how much that would contribute to the spread of misinformation; how many lives it would impact.
As an end note to the cases mentioned above, I want to emphasize on the responsibility that comes along with power. The online world has given all of us the power to share information and communicate. We must be mindful of the responsibility that comes along. And when we see people abusing this power, we must be able to take appropriate actions such as reporting and spreading awareness about them.