Aluthgama’ is now semi-officially a name for many things such as inter-religious tensions, inciting violence and failure of state authorities. There were simmering tensions, that much is clear. There was an incident, that’s known too. Then entered ‘interpretation’ followed by ‘reportage’.
Those who spend a lot of time on Facebook and who tweet and read tweets, if they reflect with any degree of sobriety, would conclude that if one thing was clear it is that interested parties played down certain things and embellished others as per political positions, loyalties, sense of insecurity and even deeper sense of being aggrieved. Interestingly one of the complaints was that the mainstream media ‘deliberately played down the incident’. Some actually celebrated the existence of a thing called social media because ‘the truth cannot be suppressed’.
There’s a lot of sanity one sees on facebook and twitter. Many have alluded to the best in the teaching of the Buddha and Prophet Mohammed. By and large these have been drowned out by the irrational, the overly emotional and out and out communalist rhetoric with all kinds of narratives without a semblance of truth being posted as though it were all fact, verified and amply corroborated.
What is the truth, though? There was ‘footage’. There were voice cuts of key actors. These were interpreted. There was extrapolation. There were countless tweets and re-tweets. There were curses and blaming. There was enough fear mongering. ’83 all over again,’ some tweeted. ‘Holocaust’ was not used but could have been. That colours the picture in particular ways.
It’s all free and fair in social media. You can get away with anything. You can say any old thing. There was a story that did the rounds claiming that a Buddhist monk was killed. There were tweets claiming that scores of Muslims were killed. That would mean at least 40 dead.
The problem with exaggeration is that it feeds extremists on both sides. You say 40 were killed when only 2 died, say, and you have the accused, in this case Buddhists (and not ‘Buddhist extremists’) who had no hand in the matter would consider they are being unfairly vilified. Muslims naturally would be livid. They would be scared too. Even a single death or a single assault or a single house or business place being attacked would cause fear. Pad the numbers and the sentiments get padded too, and sometimes not to the same proportion. With fear comes frustration and desperation. From there to retaliation is a small distance. All it takes is for one person on either side who cannot for whatever reason fathom the true dimensions of a situation to do something that provokes a collective. There’s no turning
Things are bad, there’s no doubt about it. And not just in Aluthgama and Beruwela. There have been incidents that are clearly marked with foreboding. It is precisely this tenuous and fragile nature of the situation that demands more responsibility from the saner sections of society in all available forums, social media included.
Social media is an immensely empowering space. It empowered in informing, dissemination of information, improving connectivity, creating and emboldening communities among other things. But like all things, it has a down side and that is
In tense times with frayed emotions where violence has taken place and tempers are not tempered by reason it is imperative that everyone to the extent possible remain sane. There are lots of stories flying around. Wild claims. Wilder extrapolations. There is fear and there’s fear mongering. Responsible media, mainstream or ‘social’, has no option but to go with verifiable facts. All else has to be treated as conjecture at this point. Not to do so would be irresponsible.
There’s hardly anything ‘sweet’ to tweet about Aluthgama of course. But substituting tweet for truth has its own pitfalls. Aluthgama should not be synonym for something worse than it is now. Let social media not contribute to such an