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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Social media and Misinformation

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Yuval Noah Harari writes that “In a world deluged with misinformation clarity is power”. In this age of technology, clarity is rapidly disappearing. One of the dark sides of social media is the diffusion of misinformation. Social media and misinformation are becoming a launch pad for destroying the self-esteem of people. The integrity of a person is at stake in this age of social media.

Case of Dr. Yusra

Several days ago, fake news about a lady doctor, Dr. Yusra, came to light.

It attracted the attention of many people on social media. Dr. Yusra was working at the Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi. A patient’s relative accused Dr. Yusra of drinking human blood. According to BCC Urdu, National newspapers (Urdu) published unverified news under the title “The doctor who used to drink human blood lost her job”. The representative of Holy Family Hospital, Dr. Tanvir told that “a patient’s relative leveled allegations against Dr. Yusra. Hospital administration took action immediately and an inquiry into the matter commenced”.

He further said that “the accuser did not appear before the inquiry committee. The inquiry was incomplete when the news got published in the newspaper. Following CCTV footage, the blood tests, psychological tests, and staff members’ stance, we concluded that it was fake news”.  

             It was difficult to control one’s tears while reading the BBC report on this matter. There was extreme pain and helplessness in the words of Dr. Yusra’s father. Her father said that “This news left us devastated. Although the truth has been revealed, we are still unable to bring our daughter back to normal life. He further said that “his daughter is depressed to the extent that whenever she comes out of her room, she only asks that “Baba! What is published about me on social media today?”  The Father of Dr. Yusra dismayingly said that “Fake news was read by many people but (despite inquiry report) little attention is paid on seeking apology and rejection of news”.

Dr. Yusra’s Revelation

While talking to a YouTuber, Dr. Yusra maintained that “Some of the people from the hospital might be involved in the propagation of fake news for damaging my repute”. When asked about the journalist who published the news, Dr. Yusra said that “I would not reveal his name. He has apologized and I have forgiven him”. On the question of the future plan, Dr. Yusra said “it is difficult to say anything about the future. I have yet to be recovered from the distressing phase I am going through”.

In Dr. Yusra’s case, social media emerged to be a satanic tool. The number of internets and social media users is sharply increasing. Dr. Javaid Laghari, in his article titled “The power of social media,” writes that there were 61 million internet users in January 2021. He further adds that there were 43 million Facebook and Twitter users. Similarly, the WhatsApp users were around about 46 million. The more the propagation of social media and misinformation, the more the chances of chaos will be. In a country like ours where there is no check and balance, and no research culture, unverified news can destroy many careers. Dr. Yusra’s case encouraged one to do some research on the topic of misinformation.

Types of Misinformation

                                            It helped one understand the various dimensions of misinformation. A research paper titled “Misinformation in social media: Definition, Manipulation, and Detection” enlightens us about the definition and types of misinformation. The paper mentions twelve types of misinformation: unintentionally-spread misinformation, intentionally-spread misinformation, urban legend, fake news, unverified information, rumor, crowdturfing, spam, trolling, hate speech and cyberbullying. It would be pertinent to explain some important types briefly.

                                    First is “Unintentionally-spread misinformation”. It denotes the unintentional dissemination of misinformation; in which the spreader does not know the news is inauthentic. By trusting the source of information, the spreader passes it to his friends and family members. This misinformation can be related to an outbreak. So, people caring about their family members may pass this misinformation to them. 

The second is “Intentionally-spread misinformation”. It indicates the deliberate bid to disseminate misinformation. In this type, the spreader propagates fake news despite knowing the inauthenticity of the news. In such types of misinformation, various groups pass on false information in line with their agenda. Such kind of misinformation is also termed “disinformation”. 

A form of intentionally propagated misinformation is disinformation. Its agenda may have a link to gaining more and more viewers, likes, and comments. In political terms, it can serve a political party’s purpose against the opposition. Armed forces can be maligned by this type of propaganda. An example is a recent hateful campaign against the armed forces of Pakistan when the helicopter went missing in Baluchistan.

                                     The third is “Urban legend”. This is intentionally disseminated misinformation that deals with fictional stories about local events. The purpose may be entertainment. A recent example of this is the misinformation regarding floods in Pakistan. Some people termed floods as the wrath of Allah. What the propagators could not understand is that Allah does not punish without reason. If this was the wrath of Allah, then the reasons are mismanagement, poor planning, and ignorance of climate change. Entertaining purposes are also a reason for this type of disinformation.

Fourth is “Fake news”. This misinformation is propagated intentionally and is used in a news format.  The fifth is “Unverified information”. Unverified information might be true but in most cases, it appears as misinformation. The Sixth is “Rumor”. Rumor is unverified information that can be true or cannot be.

A piece of information may be a rumor until it gets verified. In most cases, we see that rumors are based upon little knowledge or no knowledge at all. Some people intentionally spread a rumor to create misunderstandings about someone or something. The case of the corona vaccine is before us, a rumor was created that the vaccinated people would die soon. Several people were denied vaccinations as a result of this myth. These six types of misinformation are more common in the world. Almost all these types sit well with Dr. Yusra’s case except “Urban legend”.

Dr. Yusra’s case was a result of intentional as well as unintentional propaganda. It was equally a rumor and fake or unverified news. Dr. Yusra’s case has exposed dying journalistic values as verification of news is one of the prerequisites of journalism. It further shows how misinformation can make our life difficult. Most of the above-mentioned types posit intentional attempts to spread misinformation for deceptive purposes. The motive behind these attempts can be a desire to get more views, political agendas, character assassination, and popularity stunts.

Voyeurism

                                 Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we have another important way of misinformation which is “Voyeurism”. Voyeurism represents the desire to get sexual pleasure by seeing others while sexual activity or in a naked position. There can be real naked photos or videos of someone but in some cases, the propagator uses a normal photo or video for creating suspense. We have two examples of Voyeurism.

Dr. Amir Liaquat Case

The first is of Amir Liaquat (Late) and the second is of a motivational speaker. Dania Shah, Amir Liaquat’s wife, produced and released the video. Then, various social media groups came into play. They disseminated the video for its popularity and viewership. This video left Amir Liaquat psychologically and physically devastated.

Qasim Ali Shah Case

Consequently, the pain of the video’s dissemination killed him. The second example is Qasim Ali Shah. He is truly a gentleman but some troublemakers from a mobile repairing shop spread his shirtless photo on social media. In our rooms or homes, we all can be shirtless but the propagator gave a caption that naked videos of Shah are coming soon.  In reality, no such video of Shah was there. So, it was propaganda to get public attention and to malign Mr. Shah.

                                In the end, one would say that government must establish a system of checks and balances on social media and misinformation. There must be prosecution of the people who distribute bogus news, particularly those who publish nude images. FIA’s cyber-crime wing must be active, otherwise, only institutions like FIA would exist but people’s dignity would not. It is the moral responsibility of every citizen of Pakistan to avoid being part of propaganda against any other citizen. The use of social media and misinformation demands some ethics.

About the Author

(Wali Ejaz Nekokara is a Graduate of the School of Politics and International relations QAU Islamabad)

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The author is a Graduate of the School of Politics and International Relations QAU, Islamabad

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