‘Data Corruption Crisis’

Social or Anti-Social Media?

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

The popular craze of public all over the world, on date, is definitely the 'Social media'. The print media is there since the discovery of Paper to write on, and Pen to write with. Next revolution in the world of 'media' was struck by the Electronic media. But the advent of social media outshone all the earlier versions, to expand and occupy the space of Information, Communication and Entertainment (ICE) world. The social media is operated through different canons like Face Book, Whattsap and Blogs, Twitter, apart from creation of websites. Out of these, The Face Book, which is an improved version of former 'Orkut', invented and run by Merck Zuckerberg of USA, is the most powerful. Now this omnipresent phenomena has its use, misuse and abuse like any technological advancement. Little could the first research scholar of Particle Physics, foresee the dangers of nuclear bombs.

First the usefulness, and that is not negligible. Facebook has broken the geographical barriers, not only the space it has also challenged the time barrier. Long lost acquaintances, friendships and relations are revived, rediscovering each other in social media platform. True friendship has been developed and established between unknown men and women, who do not even know each other physically or interface, except in uploaded profile pictures. The amateur writers find face book a ready platform to enable a large number of readers to read his posts or see the painting skill etc. share photo shoots etc. Whattsap group provides a unique platform to share and exchange pleasantries, jokes, magics, videos among themselves. Thus an artificial social life is created. In present day busy world, when people get little leisure for formal socialisation, this provides a healthy alternative. The Blog writing, is another easy creative platform for creative writers, one can read others, while others can also read someone, effortlessly from the busy office breaks, and the older generation people who cannot move freely outdoors, can make free use of time in this module. Websites are running news, or entertainment or information channels, and that is another advantage. In these days when, in many countries the censorship and attack on media freedom is rising, the news and review sites are offering unbiased and impartial news and other items, for the proper appraisal of global situation, so there are running web magazines, popularly known in the catch phrase 'webzines' are also running successfully. The Blog writers are also contributing to Blog Magazines, known as 'Blogzines' that are gaining more and more ground among the educated people. Just have one Smartphone, and you can watch movies, current and past, read old or current books on line, listen to any song or music of your choice from home, as also even live TV serials, from anywhere indoors or outdoors. Any one may opt for a tutorial class on line on any discipline. A cooking lesson can be followed while cooking in the kitchen.

Up to this point, everything looks fine, but the misuse is equally harmful. This media platforms are very often used as medium for exchange of obscene contents, jokes, expletives, mean character assassination. Such is the danger of this free exchange of anything between participants, that uploading of pornographic contents are very common. Imagine the impact on juvenile minds. Horror themes, explosives preparation techniques can be accessed at ease. Several recruitment channels for the Armed Militant organisations, freely brainwash and motivate people to join their groups. Hacking software programmes, that can easily hijack any software programme, paralyse it, and steal data over a time period, are also spread through these sites.

Such is the all pervading power of this media that this 'social' media, poses a threat to the social life itself. In a world, when all are engaged with 'social' sites, nobody, in family, in workplace or in home are having any casual interface, no free gossip, no dialogues, no jokes or group merriments. So people are living in a virtual world, in the 'social' life it has achieved a strange alienation of society members. With a large number of friends in Facebook or Whatsap group, and followers in Twitter, and without any friend in the true sense. So, the adolescent and juvenile groups are growing jealous and violent, with selective intolerance, following the dictum "men without friends are cannibals of their own hearts" (Francis Bacon).On the other hand, it can be viewed as a revolution in the concept of 'society' and 'socialisation'. In any case, this 'unsocial' feature of 'social' media is an interesting topic of social or collective Psychology.

But the most appalling aspect of this new phenomena, is the gross abuse of canons, for which there is no check point at all. Very recently, the news media world was rocked by the ‘Cambridge Analytica’ exposure. It was going on for a long time, but came into public notice when the said UK firm was charged with allegedly using the leaked data of the Face Book platform, for various kinds of manipulations including fabrication of data for building up of public opinion, required to serve the purpose of a section of political or other groups. The allegation is the said firm stole data from the profiles of FB users, taking advantage of the data security failure loopholes in the Zuckerberg software. Now the question is what is the purpose of such data theft? The reveals were more thrilling. Such data were used for 'analysis', analysis for what? For identifying and segmentation of users, in terms of their mind set, leaning, preference, dislike etc. There-after the job is to target them with set pieces of publicity material, write ups, videos, to build a definite opinion, social drive, promote a given agenda. All this is required to shape the minds and mobilise the people, to win elections, or to create social upheaval, by encouraging and instigating communal riots, ethnic clashes and identity conflict or promotion of mutual distrust.

In this way certain groups were created, and continuous motivational campaign was launched in favour of Brexit, in Britain. Similar misleading organised campaign, is stated to be responsible for defeat of Hilary Clinton, and unexpected win of Donald Trump, in US. The additional mystery is Russia was allegedly behind such operation. Hilary in fact time and again complained about that false campaign, and hand of Russia in her defeat, but remained unsubstantiated, till things came out with the 'Analytica exposure'. At this point, Zuckerberg, initially, denied the charge of data theft and not agreeable to accept the security failure in Face Book software. But in the face of concrete proofs, he had to succumb finally, and admitted, such leakage. Being under pressure, Russia had also accepted the charge, and Putin indirectly admitted it.

Now, the question is how such shaping and moulding of public opinion en masse, is possible? The plain and simple modus operandi, is to float fake news and false publicity. In US, such profiles as "we hate Hilary", "save America", "America with Trump", were created to build opinion, which is totally biased, and irrational, and the result is known to all. Similar fake profiles like "We are for Brexit" or say "Save Britain" were launched to build public opinion in favour of Brexit. All such sites are loaded with fake news, false information, one sided expert opinion, fractured interpretation of history, economics, and above all hate speeches. This filthy, nasty hate mongering, without any care for decency and morality, are the basic weapons used.

The Face Book is full of fake profiles, in different fictitious names, anyone can open and operate such profiles, becoming the tool of a certain such campaign programme. Whattsap groups are also created for free exchange and spread of similar identical motivational material, and people knowingly or unknowingly, are trapped in such conspiracy. Twitter Handles are also used for the spread of prevocational contents. False websites are created to cheat credulous users, very often, Police Department, or any such organisation, are in the fix with such fake websites. And miscreants easily, spread wrong message through such fake sites, to create disturbance. Standard operating procedure for all such endeavours are same, to push fake news, and views, spread non existing scandals, character assassination by lewd comments and references, spread caste or religion based hatred, instigate anger against select persons, picked up by random analysis of the stolen data, who would be receptive, of volatile mind set or fixed bias, and make the chosen agenda to sail through successfully.

The menace of this social media, is mostly evident in poorer countries, where, standard of living is bad, education is low, people are of vulnerable mindset, easily irritable. Here interestingly, though the civic facilities of life are very poor and backward with no potable water or sanitation, the mobile towers and net connectivity, however weak it might be, are there. And all the members from child to adult, can be seen struggling with a personal smart phone. In public places, people, particularly the young segment, can be seen absorbed in the keys of Smartphone. Even in a nuclear family, parents and children, are not enjoying family life during leisure, but can be seen engaged with Mobile Phone. Sometimes, cheap mobiles are distributed free of cost, before the election, with a purpose. A few examples will make the matter clear. In Colombo (Sri Lanka), one Truck Driver, who was away from home, engaged in some street fight with someone else. This is a common thing in a Driver's life. But soon the video of that very brawl was posted in face book, with tag that Muslims are attacking the majority Buddhist community members to drive them away, and that was enough to start a riot between the two communities in that area, though the Driver, returned home safely and was taken aback by such video. In another such post, the fake news was spread that in a particular area of Sri Lanka, the Muslims are trying to push sterilisation drugs among the Buddhists, with a very convincing news coverage that Police had already confiscated such 20 thousand drugs. One face book post displayed a video in which one guest was enquiring about certain food with suspicious look, his language was not clear to the hotel employee, and he nodded in confirmation. That was spread as a confirmation of such drugs in Hotels and elsewhere. And it was enough to set fire. Soon a Hotel in that area, owned by a Muslim, was ransacked and set on fire. It has been reported that the attack on Rohingya community and destruction in Rakhine province of Myanmar, was triggered by such false scare and hate messages spread through social media. In Bangladesh, the pro Pakistan forces, very much rely on the face book propaganda, and they killed the bloggers, who opposed all religious orthodoxy, identifying them from face book pages.

In India, in the Parliamentary election of 2014, the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made an extensive and free use of this social media, to shape public opinion, by hurling volley of hate speeches, false promises, wrong presentation of tailor made data, manufactured exit poll observations and filthy character assassination of opposite party leaders and past stalwarts. Even after the Election the RSS / BJP sponsored IT cell activists are busy round the clock, to create fake pages, fictitious fan followings, just to push distorted history, perverted mythology, crude religion, communal hatred, to target the users in formulation of hostile, blind opinions, and servile allegiance to their ideology. In many cases they were found instigating communal riots and mass outrages. In case of a movie named Padmavat, such wrong messages drew public from home to streets in order to create commotion. In West Bengal, the heinous riot broke out in Baduria- Basirhat area, triggered by a so called blasphamous face book post. Another BJP Lady leader posted one clipping from a Bhojpuri movie, of dangerous street molestation of a traditional Hindu Lady, and described it as the state of Hindu women in the hands of Muslim miscreants in Bengal. All the time the self styled leaders and champions of the cause of Hindutwa, are spreading false alarm of ISIS activism, the demographic endangerment of Hindus, whose numbers are falling, and Muslims rising in head count with a geometrical progression etc etc. In a recent rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu, these cannons even spread the message, she was raped by her own community members, may be by her father, as among them fathers often rape daughters, no wonder. Then it was said there was no rape, then no girl was there, the real girl was kept in hiding and a body from outside placed to create alarm and trap the pious Hindus, so on and so forth. The same IT cell is running 24×7 Troll Factory, targeting select personalities like, Sonia, Rahul, Arundhati Roy, Rana Ayyub, Barkha Dutt, Teesta Seetalvad and the likes to generate killer antipathy. Recently, in this very social media, one video was uploaded, presenting one deserter from BJP IT Cell, who exposed the nefarious activity of this tool by the paid workers.

The most dangerous part of this platform, is that anyone can create fake Profile, or handle, and run successfully for a long time. Similarly fake followers’ profile can be created and made operational. Once face book Profile started and running goes on, he or she can only bifurcate in different types, and become mutual friends, or followers, thus one small group becomes large. And the task of creating stories and distributing fake hate messages continue.

Merck Zukerberg, initially rejected the allegation of data leak vehemently, and brushed aside the charge. But the Cambridge Analytica expose set the ball rolling, the Analytica office in UK was raided, and Zuckerberg was summoned in British Parliament to face interrogation and answer questions. He did not oblige to the British gesture, and America, is careful about its ‘own citizens, their dignity and security’, so they will never allow Zuckerberg to face any investigation abroad. But the demand for explanation and call for accountability was rising, particularly in the west, and finally Zuckerberg admitted the vulnerability of his software, apologised in public, and ensured future data security, by invention and installation of application software capable of automated data scanning, checking hate speeches and filter communally charged data. India's Central Law Minister created a fuss by accusing INC for engaging Analytica, while the reality is BJP is their first client.The hue and cry raised by the central Minister is hollow, as India has no capacity to book Zuckerberg, an American citizen. Secondly, war against fake news is also meaningless, as the saffron politics itself is based on all that is false and fake.

The fake news, hate speech, false propaganda, have assumed such dangerous proportion in the world, that, large groups are demanding ‘de-addiction therapy’ to rescue the people glued to it day and night. Social mass movements like "Delete Facebook", "Exit Whattsap", "Close Twitter Handle", "Unsubscribe and Unfollow", are gaining popularity. The advancement of Science and Technology, is definitely 'boon' to mankind, but rampant destruction of Nature and invention of killer war materials, are threats to civilisation. Similarly, the 'unsocial' and 'anti social' deployment of otherwise innocuous 'media' is real matter of concern. Experts are searching for way out of checking the fake or false elements of this media, but no solution in sight yet. Meanwhile, as bad money drives good money out of market, here also, the fake and false are driving out authentic and genuine information from the system. One must wage immediate war against this menace of 'social media', otherwise, people will face soon 'Data Corruption Crisis', today or tomorrow.

Vol. 50, No.50, June 17 - 23, 2018