Decades ago, the main sources of information were mass media including newspapers, radio and television. However, the digital age and easy access to information via social media: Facebook, Twitter, You tube, Whatsapp, Instagram etc. tend to threaten the mainstream mass media. These novel sources of information make us opinionated, often rendering a platform where opinions, be it positive or negative, go viral. One could argue that any individual has the right to showcase any idea or opinion in his or her private account in any social media platform. Nevertheless, it is not legitimate to fabricate any morphed or distorted news which would generate hatred and unnecessary social unrest in the country. In hindsight, the unprecedented spread of hate speech and distorted news in social media relating to the recent communal unrest, led the Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) to monitor all social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp etc., for the first time in Sri Lanka. Following the repercussions, not only was the Kandy Administrative District under curfew, but the masses were also subjected to the digital surveillance. It goes without saying that in social media anything and everything can go viral, without any control. Various groups would prefer to take the benefit from this uncontrollable flow of information, in order to spread distorted, morphed news.
Hype about the sterilization pills
The March 4th edition of the Sunday Observer states that the video which made rounds in social media, on the uproar of the so-called sterilization pills, which are claimed to be found in an Ampara restaurant, is fraudulent. The newspaper emphasizes that the issue came to the forefront as a customer had found a dough in food thinking that it was sterilization pill. Consequently, few mosques and other property were damaged as a cause of the ferocity of the residents of that area, which got heightened after seeing the so-called video. At this juncture, there are several pressing issues that need to be tackled. Firstly, the mass media has the ability to tackle these rumors which are doing rounds and to educate the masses.
Video on the Throat-cutting gesture
Similarly, the recent video of the throat-slinging gesture by Brigadier Priyanka Fernando, Minister Counsellor (Defence) in the Sri Lanka mission in London, went viral in social media either for positive or negative reasons. Nevertheless, the burgeoning issue is that the video that went viral could have been taken out of proportion. The part where he had initially negotiated with diaspora was not visible in many of the videos that the masses initially came across. Social media makes the mass aware of some hideous topics that the mainstream mass media fails to report on. But, the concern is that, sometimes social media puts unnecessary pressure on state affairs, even before the affairs are acknowledged under an inquiry. Even the Military Spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu said that Brigadier Fernando cannot be punished based on a video clip alone.
Interests of political and social groups
Moreover, different interests of political and social groups give momentum to the overflow of such news. Sometimes different groups which have prejudices on other groups give consent for such petty ethnic rivals. The situation in Ampara and the clash in Digana should not be intertwined with so- called religious or racist misinterpretations. It is the arrogance and prejudice towards the other group. In social psychology there is a theory called “in-group and out-group mentality”. In-group is a social identity which an individual imbibe thinking he or she belongs to it. Such social groups can be based on race, ethnicity, gender etc.
Every coin has two sides
Hence, are we to blame social media? Every coin has two sides. One should not let go its positive consequences. The controversial laptop dance which was scheduled to be performed at the Independence Parade 2018, was removed by the relevant authorities, after it was ridiculed in social media. The launch of Yahapalana Government mainly came into being with the fuel of the social media. In the global stage, the Arab Spring would not have sprung if not for the social media force. Thus, one should know how to use social media with conscience. One should be wise enough to filter information from opinions, because, information in social media can be loaded with opinions and sensationalism, since it aims to get the highest number of views. Let us not forget that we have a sound literacy rate in Sri Lanka which is above 95%, and it is high time to question the true meaning of our literacy and intelligence. Education would be wholesome if individuals can think rationally and feed the humanity with sympathy and empathy. Susan Krauss Whitbournein further mentions that we can eliminate the ingroup or outdoor group psychological condition if we,
1. Recognize the arbitrary nature of many ingroup-outgroup distinctions.
2. Put yourself in the place of the outgroup member.
3. Look for commonalities between opposing groups. -
4. Work on building your inner sense of security.
5. Pass along the lesson.
These reconciliation tips can be passed via social media, the same tool which tends to divide people, if we put its rightful purpose at the right place; “connection”.
(Savindrie Jayawardane is a graduate of International Relations from the University of London. She is currently reading for her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Degree in English from the University of Peradeniya)