Social Media

Let’s shoot the messenger

Mala Bhargava | Updated on July 20, 2018 Published on July 20, 2018

It has been an open season for vigilante violence and mob lynching in India. Battering someone to death, whether as a group or individually, is, as everyone knows, against the law. But so high is the tolerance for it in the country that all it needs is a whisper and the mob is galvanised into a frenzy of abandoned violence. Like a lake of petrol waiting for the merest little match to be lit.

Not for the first time, the courts, recently the Supreme Court, had to remind the government that the phenomenon cannot go unchecked, whether the mob’s fury is directed at what it sees as cow-abuse or the kidnapping of children.

The government’s answer seems to have been a sound rap on the knuckles for Whatsapp, the medium through which fake news is spread through fast-moving forwards and rumours travel at the speed of light. Whatsapp was asked to get its act together, or else. In other words, let’s shoot the messenger.

Now, the messenger has obligingly said it will restrict a message from being forwarded more than five times. They will also remove the quick forward button from near its position near media items. If it were but that easy to put a half to instant mob violence in India.

The truth is of course that the mobs don’t need Whatsapp to do their work. They need permission. And unfortunately they seem to have it. Once the powers that be look the other way given one reason for violence, the threshold for other reasons is lowered. Killing is killing, whether it is for cows or kids or any other cause. The mobs know they will get away. Once there’s an environment that permits violence of any sort, it assumes a life of its own.

There’s little Whatsapp can do about that.

In the blink of an eye, the would be mobs will find another way to converge. It may take a little harder work on Whatsapp if it throttles forwarding a little, but a workaround will be found and in any case, Whatsapp is not the only messenger around and nor is a messenger the only platform around.

Published on July 20, 2018

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