Last week, it was a post on the popular social media platform of #Facebook that flared communal
tensions in the eastern Indian state of #WestBengal. The post made by a #ClassTwelve student from the majority community had hundreds of people of the other community spilling on to the streets. Before one knew it, a mob of supposedly thousands of angry rioters damaged public property, burnt shops and fearing that the situation could turn ugly the government decided to call in #ParamilitaryForces. While the government in Bengal accused the opposition (read the #BJP) of stoking communal tensions and creating a situation that could lead to violence vocal critics of the government have in turn pointed fingers at the apparent appeasement of the minority community which has emboldened some mischievous elements. While that is a matter for debate and discussion what is worrying happens to be the way in which the virtual world is being used increasingly to create trouble in the real one.
Last week was also significant for social networking giant Facebook as it hit the magical #TwoBillion mark as far as #MonthlyUsers worldwide go. Now this comes a good thirteen years after it first came on the scene but more critically just five years after it reached one billion users. Clearly this is a #Behemoth that is growing exponentially with no signs of slowing down anytime soon. And it is not just the entrepreneurs and business community that realises the potential of this platform. Enough trouble makers are clued in to social media and these are trying times. It was only last year that the government in #Israel brought in legislative steps in order to keep a check on those who use social media for inciting violence. In fact, a delegation from Facebook visited the country where both sides discussed ways in which those acting against the law of the land could be thwarted.
The trouble is basic. Though the internet has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade lawmakers in countries of various parts of the world have not been able to match up this speed. #Cyberlaws were hazy back then and strangely enough continue to be so even to this day. For example if the perpetrators of a crime are away in a foreign land while the crime takes place elsewhere it makes catching up with them difficult and punishing them almost impossible. In the last few years #SeriousCrimes linked to social media have gone up quite drastically. Sample this. In the #UK alone statistics from the police reveal to us that there is a serious crime (murder, blackmail, crimes against women & children) reported by social media users every 45 minutes or so. Now those are worrying numbers, for sure. So what is the way out or should one say forward? What are the checks and balances that need to be put in place?
The need of the hour is to act swiftly and decisively against wrong doers but at the same time governments in these places must be careful not to use this as a pretext to curb the freedom to express free and fair opinions. And surely not to use this settle scores with those critical of the government by getting vindicative. So striking the right balance is key. Social media has the potential for making the world a better place. For every stakeholder, be it the business people, the end user customer and the casual internet surfer too. As long as it continues to be safe, reliable and trustworthy. It is important that people who use the internet use it responsibly and if they do not action has to be taken and appropriately. Be it the real world or the online one, some rules are meant to be.