Outrage before sharing

by Prasad Krishna last modified Sep 20, 2015 05:08 PM
Has the social media converted people into a lynch mob that seeks out justice and passes judgement instantly, without bothering to hear both sides of the story?

The article by Nikhil Varma was published in the Hindu on September 9, 2015. Rohini Lakshané was quoted.

The Internet has changed the way we communicate in more ways than we can imagine. Apart from being a medium to share pictures and updates with family and friends, social media has also become an arena where political debates are a commonplace and people are quick to make judgements. The social media space has become one where superlatives are commonly used and videos or conversations about inappropriate behaviour or even a tweet or Facebook post has a tendency to go viral and snowball into a shaming of the individual or organisation in question, without bothering to hear out the other side of the story. Outraging can be over anything, from the faults of the Government, to lay people who sometimes find themselves the subject of an online shaming campaign.

Recently, an FB user put up pictures of a person, who she claimed misbehaved with her on a street in Delhi. Within a few hours, the man’s picture went viral and he was arrested by the police, even as he was called names and abused on social media networks. A few days later, eyewitness accounts corroborated the man’s account of the incident. The response online now put the girl at fault and blamed her for politicising the issue. The initial response to the video of the Rohtak sisters bashing up alleged molesters also saw the outrage shifting sides.

How does one deal with people making judgements with a click of a button? Does online shaming dent the chances of people getting justice in genuine cases of assault?

Rohini Lakshané, a researcher at the Centre for Internet and Society says, “Online, public shaming is a useful and often effective strategy for calling out unacceptable behaviour when recourse to other remedies is tedious, time-consuming, or non-existent. Its flipside is that shaming online could lead to mob justice or a witch-hunt. The onus should be on the viewers or readers of such an act of shaming to not take the law into their own hands and on the news media to do their basic duty of checking facts before publishing or broadcasting anything.”

She adds, “People use social networking sites, among other things, as verandas where they can gather gossip, and talk about their interests. If people jumping the gun and being judgemental offline isn’t a cause for concern, I don’t see why it should be when it happens online.”

On checks, Rohini contends, “They would not be in the interest of free speech. It would, of course, make a difference if social media users paused to think.”

V. Shakti, Social Media and Branding Professional, points out that the mass adoption of social media platforms has had positive and negative effects. “It has ensured that anyone can reach out and get any information. The flip side is that this power to reach millions needs to be handled with care and responsibility. The Jasleen Kaur incident is a glaring reflection. Such is the mindset of people online that anyone who is shamed is assumed guilty and derided. Sometimes the shaming does permanent damage to the target and the effects are life-long. The minute Jasleen posted a picture online, even the media jumped in calling the guy a ‘pervert’, if this were some other country, they would be sued. We need to understand that un-shaming is not an option and hence be careful when throwing mud at someone online. Remember, it could be you tomorrow. Think, verify and then act. Like I always say, there are three sides to every story - yours, mine and the truth.”

For psychiatrist and Integrative medicine specialist Shyam Bhatt, online shaming is a combination of a sense of mob justice and the feeling of participating in a cause. “It is easy to sign up for a cause online, you can click share and feel good about yourself. People also tend to get swayed by what their friend circles are talking about.”

Social media user Praveen Rao feels an attempt to feel involved with causes is responsible for this phenomenon.

“It is important for people to check the authenticity and wait for a clear picture to emerge before talking about something. However, in the rush to appear clued in, people tend to share anything that goes viral, without pausing to think if someone’s life could be ruined. It is a good tool to call out genuine cases of misbehaviour and assault, but mob justice should be avoided.”