The Increasing Influence Of Fake News On Pakistani Social Media Is Creating Mass Hysteria And Terror

By Shayan Naveed | 13 Jul, 2018

The recent news regarding the Bilour tragedy revealed a rather frightening facet of social media- the speedy dissemination of false news. Of mass hysteria. Of exaggerated panic. This, however, is more regurgitation than revelation because the false news phenomenon has maintained its existence stubbornly and universally for a long period of time. Perhaps even before the advent of social media. It predates Trump’s ‘fakes news’ epidemic although his remarkable understanding of it could be the phrase’s claim to fame. Whatever its provenance and genealogy, it is growing and it has grave repercussions.

Haroon Bilour, the senior Awami National Party (ANP) leader, was killed in a suicide blast. He was targeted on Tuesday night at a corner meeting in the Yakatoot region

Bilour’s father, Bashir Bilour, was also killed in a TTP-claimed suicide attack in 2012. Following this tragedy, there were several accounts on Twitter claiming Haroon Bilour’s son, Danial Bilour, had also been killed along with his father.

There were mass waves of condolences and prayers for the ‘deceased’ Danial Bilour

This circulated freely and massively on Twitter, retweeted even by prominent politicians. It was not until a few hours later that Danial Bilour was reported as being very much alive, albeit injured. Four days later, Twitter is still filled with reports on his death.

It is important, almost crucial, to wait for official statements from either hospitals or the police or any other reliable source before disseminating claims as paramount as this

Preliminary research is absolutely essential. If nothing else, consider its impact on the already grieving families of the lost ones. False news has weighty consequences.

Generations of public hysteria and panic seldom have negligible effects. News in Pakistan, unfortunately, has a tendency to travel through speculation rather than investigation. Last year, a blast in Y Block DHA, Lahore prompted false reports claiming another blast had erupted in Gulberg, Lahore. Panic followed the news of twin blasts as people rigorously ensured the safety of their loved ones.

Consider the horrifying aftermath India went through after a hoax message went viral on WhatsApp

It triggered lynchings of at least 24 people accused of being child kidnappers. Local police found that mass-circulated WhatsApp messages carrying fake information about child kidnappers being on the prowl in the areas set off almost all the attacks.

Source: CNET

This resulted in WhatsApp starting an “education campaign” in India to identify fake news and rumors

It also recently announced the launch of a new feature globally that will highlight when a message has been forwarded and not composed by the sender. Social media giant, Twitter plans to take a similar approach to minimize the dissemination of false news. It recently cut millions of user followers in its quest to fight fake news.

It is however important that we as citizens also take responsible action

Baseless news should never be allowed to reach mass scales unless proven legitimate. Social media platforms have proven to be major purveyors of false news but reports shared on a large scale do not make them credible. While yellow journalism remains worthy of criticism, misinformed citizens can also be instigators of sensationalism and exaggeration. The ramifications of this new reality require urgent responsibility from both citizens and news sources to collectively stop it from taking uglier turns.



Here’s How Fake Accounts And Bots On Social Media Can Influence The Pakistani Election And You Should Be Wary


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