Thanks to social media, today misinformation/information spread faster than ever before. A US based website Nationalreport.net took satire too far and uploaded a news item The Assam Rape Festival in India Begins This Week, mentioning that a certain Annual Rape Festival was being celebrated in Assam-the North eastern state of India. The news obviously was fake and absolutely ridiculous. Soon after the news item was uploaded, it spread like wildfire. Before even realizing that it was satirical, many had already shared, commented and talked about it with others. Within 10 minutes, I got more than 10 messages asking me, if the particular news item was true. I was of course flabbergasted and very angry. But after a clear reading and some online research, I found out that it was a satirical piece. Thereafter, I started telling my friends, that it was nothing but a hoax.
I thought the episode had ended then. But after reaching home, when I switched on my TV to watch the Assamese news channel, I found out that the damage had already been done. People all over Assam were angry and saddened over the item and a group of non-governmental organizations had already filed a case against the item.
The media plays an important role in both perpetuating and in breaking down stereotypes. If they characterize particular groups of people in certain ways, their viewers (or readers) are likely to do the same. The above piece adds on to the already existing stereotype of Assam being classified as an insurgent state. People from all over the world slammed Assam for organizing such a festival, as if it was true. While many from others part of India and even Assam, merely shared the news believing it to be true. Not many a times, a news item about Assam or for that matter North East India finds place in National media, let alone international media. And an US based news site (although satirical) publishing such an outrageous item did not help the cause. Comments like “God have mercy on these innocent women…………..you men who are doing this you are cursed. What kind of tradition is this? All you have to know is that God the father of all of us is watching you and you are going to pay for your sins” clearly suggest that it is no longer fun and the damage is already been done.
Moreover, it also trivializes a serious issue (rape) into something satirical, which clearly depicts irresponsible journalism.
The news item perhaps had started as a fun piece and might have had some relations to do with the rising crimes against women in Assam. But the approach to the issue clearly raises the irresponsibility of media and how a single piece which could be fun for others could add on to the existing stereotypes and rumors. But above all, it raises a very pertinent question of how we have become mere consumers of information. Today none of us ever bother to question the authenticity of information and just pass on messages and videos from our cell phones, laptops, tablets and desktops etc without even blinking an eye.
Thus, there is a desperate need to question information, analyze intentions and above all try to build a culture of mutual understanding based on true facts and respect towards each other. And such irresponsible news item/satirical piece or whatever it be, should not be perpetuated, let alone be uploaded to social media.
Opinions expressed are personal.