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Social Media A Medium For Evil? No Remedy To Escape

Monitoring private conversations/messages is illegal.

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WhatsApp
WhatsApp's moderators should have been able to find these groups and put a stop to them

What do we do with social media which instead of being a force for good has very often tended to become a medium for evil, pure evil? The lynching of five people in Dhule district of Maharashtra on Sunday has come on the back of many such incidents of mob violence in several parts of the country. In all such incidents of gruesome killings of innocents on false pretexts, the authorities were generally rendered helpless. There is very little they could have done to prevent the rumour-monger from setting off a chain of events sitting in the privacy of his home and punching a few words on the keyboard of his smart phone.

Monitoring private conversations/messages is illegal. In any case, even if they wanted to, it is hard to police the social media. The ubiquitous smart phone has also become a source of great menace, jeopardising the lives of innocents and even triggering widespread riots and violence. The lynching of the five people in the tribal hamlet of Rainpada in Sakri talkua occurred on the suspicion that they were child-abductors. The local police said that the villagers attending a weekly market got enraged when one of the five victims alighting from a bus was seen talking to a little girl. Suspecting him to be the child kidnappers, the social media posts had warned them about, they pounced on him and the four others who alighted from the bus and killed them on the spot. Inquiries later revealed that all five were nomads who had come to the Sunday market to beg for alms.

Facebook Into Data-Sharing Partnership With 52 Companies
Facebook, social media. Pixabay

A police party which reached the spot from the district headquarters after over an hour, too, was attacked, with the people protesting that little was done to check the activities of child-lifters. Apparently, social media posts had spread rumours that gangs of child kidnappers were active in the area who forced children to beg in big towns or used them for organ harvesting. Last month, two persons were lynched in Vajipur taluka of Aurangabad district of the State on suspicion of their being robbers. Eight people were arrested for these murders. In Sunday’s incident, the police had registered a case of murder and rioting and named twelve in the FIR while it was investigating the role of several others. Yet, social media menace is universal.

A few weeks ago, two educated youths exploring the flora and fauna of a verdant place in Assam were waylaid and thrashed to death by an angry mob which suspected them to be part of a gang of child-lifters. In Assam itself a few weeks earlier, a post on a social media platform by a jealous trader about a fellow trader selling beef had led to rioting in which the shop falsely accused of selling beef was burnt down. Such incidents of mob violence sparked off by false rumours on social media have been reported from all parts of the country. Ironically, a young person hired by the authorities in Tripura to quell rumours on social media about child abductors was himself lunched by a mob.

Also read: Hookah Smoking Posts on Social Media Promote The Habit, Here’s How

Unfortunately, there is no immediate remedy against the spreading of false rumours as long as the cell phone is handily available to all comers regardless of their mental state, education and sense of social and moral responsibility. The strength of the most commonly used internet platform, WhatsApp, lies in its secrecy, its encryption. Everyone seems to be on WhatsApp as part of one group or the other. It is hard to imagine that short of directing the telecom service providers to deny internet services to people lacking a school-leaving certificate, if anything can be done to check the violent abuse of social media. Social awareness and civic sense does not come easy to a large number of people, especially when they happen to be seeped in utter ignorance and remain cut off from the mainstream. However, as a first step all telecom service providers in conjunction with the district police and civil authorities should undertake a vigorous campaign to warn people against rumour-mongering and fake news and prescribe severe punishment for offenders. (IANS)

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Authorities Scroll Through Social Media Violations Of Laws Restricting Political Parties, As It Forms Thailand’s Election “War Room”

"Combating false news is crucial to the integrity and safety of the Thailand elections," said Katie Harbath, Facebook's Global Politics and Government director, during a Bangkok visit in January.

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Government staff work as they monitor social media in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019. VOA

In Thailand’s election “war room,” authorities scroll through thousands of social media posts, looking for violations of laws restricting political parties’ campaigning on social media that activists say are among the most prohibitive in the world.

The monitors are on the look-out for posts that “spread lies, slander candidates, or use rude language,” all violations of the new electoral law, said Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission, who gave a Reuters team an exclusive tour of the facility.

When they find an offending post, on, for example, Facebook, they print it out, date-stamp it, and file it in a clear plastic folder, to be handed over to the Election Commission and submitted to Facebook for removal.

“When we order content to be removed, we’ll reach out to the platforms, and they are happy to cooperate with us and make these orders efficient,” Sawang said.

Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of Election Commission talks as he works in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019.
Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of Election Commission talks as he works in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019.

Sawang said the tough electoral laws governing social media for the March 24 election, the first since a 2014 military coup, are a necessary innovation aimed at preventing manipulation that has plagued other countries’ elections in recent years.

“Other countries don’t do this. Thailand is ahead of the curve with regulating social media to ensure orderly campaigning and to protect candidates,” he said.

A Facebook representative said it reviewed requests from governments on a case-by-case basis.

“We have a government request process, which is no different in Thailand than the rest of the world,” the representative said.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

Democracy advocates, worry the social media restrictions laid out by the military government may be impeding parties from freely campaigning.

The rules require that candidates and parties register social media handles and submit a post to the commission, stating what platform it will appear on and for how long.

Parties and candidates are only allowed to discuss policies, and posts that are judged to be misleading voters or that portray others negatively could see the party disqualified, or a candidate jailed for up to 10 years and banned from politics for 20.

Government staff work as they monitor social media in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019.
Government staff work as they monitor social media in a social media war room in Bangkok, Thailand, March 8, 2019. VOA

Pongsak Chan-on, coordinator of the Bangkok-based Asia Network for Free and Fair Election (ANFREL), said the rules go far beyond combating “fake news” and raise questions about how free and fair the election will be.

“The rules are stricter than in any recent elections anywhere. They’re so detailed and strict that parties are obstructed,” he told Reuters.

‘Doesn’t Bode Well for Democracy’

The monitoring center, with a signboard reading “E-War Room,” has three rows of computers and stacks of printouts, with half a dozen workers spending eight hours a day searching for violations of the law.

Sawang said another intelligence center scanned for violations 24 hours a day but it was “off-limits” to media.

The election is broadly seen as a race between the military-backed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, and parties that want the military out of politics.

But the stringent rules have left anti-junta parties fretting about how to campaign online, nervous that they could inadvertently break a rule that triggers disqualification.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrives to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of "National Fund to Reduce Inequalities" ahead of the general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 18, 2019.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrives to deliver a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of “National Fund to Reduce Inequalities” ahead of the general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, March 18, 2019. VOA

Up to now, the new rules have not been used to disqualify any candidates though the very threat has had a dampening effect and encouraged self-censorship.

“They create complications for parties,” said Pannika Wanich, spokeswoman for the new Future Forward Party, which has attracted support among young urban folk who have come of age on social media.

She said her party had to consult a legal team before making posts.

Some candidates have deactivated their Facebook pages while others have removed posts that might cause trouble.

Last month, Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroonruangkit faced disqualification over an allegation that he misled voters in his biography on the party’s website. The commission dismissed the case last week.

A woman casts her early vote for the upcoming Thai election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 17, 2019.
A woman casts her early vote for the upcoming Thai election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, March 17, 2019. VOA

In another petition, the commission was asked to ban the party’s secretary-general for slandering the junta in a Facebook post.

“It’s very restrictive and doesn’t bode well for democracy,” said Tom Villarin, a Philippine congressman and member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). “Putting more restrictions on social media during a campaign season defeats the purpose of holding elections in the first place.”

Fighting Fake News

About 74 percent of Thailand’s population of 69 million are active social media users, putting Thais among the world’s top 10 users, according to a 2018 survey by Hootsuite and We Are Social.

Thailand is Facebook’s eighth biggest market with 51 million users, the survey showed.

Facebook said it has teams with Thai-language speakers to monitor posts and restricts electoral advertisements from outside the country.

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“Combating false news is crucial to the integrity and safety of the Thailand elections,” said Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Global Politics and Government director, during a Bangkok visit in January.

Sawang said the election commission has also gained cooperation from Twitter and Japanese messaging app Line, used by 45 million Thais.

Line Thailand told Reuters it did not monitor chats for the election commission but helped limit fake news by showing only articles from “trusted publishers” on its news feature. (VOA)