Social media has spread across the far corners of the country, bringing with it the threats of proliferation of fake news, hate speeches and social polarisation
The Digital Security Act 2018 was applied for the first time during the quota reform movement. People were taken in by the police for sharing contents on social media that lead to, according to official line of argument, social unrest.
Ranu was killed by an angry mob that swooped on her by wrongly identifying her as a kidnapper. The incident was one in a series of attacks. A bizarre rumour was behind such mob mayhem – what spread through social media was that the completion of Padma bridge would require human heads and that there were kidnappers on the loose, looking for sacrificial victims.
Before even the tears could dry in the eyes of Ranu's dear ones, yet another incident left four dead in Bhola. A clash in real time between police and Tawhidi Janata, an Islamic outfit, stemmed from a controversy that first brewed on
Facebook and then spread across the upazila.
In both occasions fake news was the source of social disruption.
Sadly enough, these are not the first two incidents which were triggered by fake news generated on social media. Similar incidents took place in Bangladesh since Ramu violence in 2012. Social media played a major role every time in mobilising the mob. Did anybody predict that social media would lead to such consequences?
The Business Standard reached out to the Cyber Crime Unit under Dhaka Metropolitan Police to have some insights on the critical issues pertaining to mob behaviour.
According to data collected on several cases in 2017, more than 50 per cent of the cybercrimes were found to have stemmed from social media platforms.
The Business Standard talked to Syed Nasirullah, the senior assistant commissioner of cyber security and crime department. According to Syed, hacking refers to the infiltration of servers. However, recently, it became synonymous to that of hacking a Facebook ID. Since, a mere ID hack can lead to communal violence, now the department has to work more to recover or trace hacked IDs on social media rather than dealing with server hacks.
He informed that the department was initiated urgently because of intermittent breakout of incidents that were a direct invasion of privacy – sometimes instigating violent outcomes.
But to this day there is no direct law against rumour spread online, added Sayed Nasirullah. But, the Digital Security Act 2018 has set some criteria of crimes to be considered as cybercrimes. They include hacking, blackmailing online, digital fraud, pornography, spreading false information, cyber terrorism, causing unrest, hurting religious and national sentiment, and the spirit of liberation war.
The law was applied for the first time during the quota reform movement. People were taken in by the police for sharing contents on social media that lead to, according to official line of argument, social unrest.
So, there is scope for the authority to interpret political mobilisation as social unrest. Whereas, mob attacks and even clashes between rivals can easily be orchestrated through social media campaign or by spreading disinformation. The workforce for overseeing these outbreaks is limited. Thus, these incidents often go out of hand, very fast.
Addressing the multiplicities of unguarded social media dangers, ACP Syed Nasirullah said, "We do not have any regulation over social media platforms or their servers. We cannot spot the first person who starts spreading a rumour or false information. The perpetrator knows it is easier to get away through the loophole. This is what makes the task harder."
Despite of the inadequate law, a report from RAB cybercrime unit shows that complaints about cybercrimes on social media have skyrocketed from 2004 to 2019.
There is a dilemma regarding government regulating the social media platforms and it is linked to the fact that that most regulatory laws are being used to curb dissent. Whereas, it could have been put to more use in dealing with social media contents that are greatly harming the public.
How is the social media situation internationally?
The entire world knows about Cambridge Analytica blunder, and the summoning of Mark Zuckerberg before the US parliament with the claim that his organisation is a catalyst in spreading political propaganda. In a statement, Zuckerberg said he believed in free speech, and refused to take down newsworthy contents.
A worldwide concern is growing over the usage of such platforms. Singapore and Australia have introduced new laws to deal with social media violations. Some other countries are proposing fact-checking sites.
Policy makers in Bangladesh have repeatedly tried to come to a settlement with Facebook and WhatsApp over the issues. All they could manage was setting up a different channel who promised to help with posts that spread violence.
But violence and radical reactions are far too many and social media activities that are fomenting hatred is difficult to contain.
Concerned citizens are of the opinion that, this is happening as the issues have not been addressed properly. Syed Kamrul Hasan, director of South Asia Centre for Media in Development (SACMID), an organisation that is working for media literacy, said, "Social media has reached to the most remote areas where even proper education has not. They, of course, react differently. Before we could take any preventive action, it started festering everything. Such influx is not just premature, it was unprecedented too."
Asked if there was any way out of this situation, he said we have to find the root cause to solve the problem.
After analysing the ICT text of national curriculum, SACMID has taken a project of updating those books. The new additions will include chapters on rumours, fake news, and fact checking.