Is Whats App making you a responsible citizen? | Sunday Observer

Is Whats App making you a responsible citizen?

Social media has revolutionsed society. With creative and improved means of communication, live updates become freely accessible, news is as close to you as the play button on your screen, images and messages circulate between millions of people around the world within seconds, and as a result people are now more instantly up to date, aware, and informed.

In the frenzy of information exchange, truth and legitimacy have become increasingly irrelevant. They are concepts that are not quite forgotten, but more seemingly drowned beneath the waves of what is more exciting and controversial.

This matters little to us until a day like April 21 2019, when the Easter Sunday explosions inflicted terror and trauma on the lives of all Sri Lankans. It is the day we also began to feel the full force of the impact of fake news, conspiracy theories, and deep-seated ethnic prejudice that veiled itself in robes of nationalism.

The spreading of false information and violent/ prejudicial sentiments can have grave negative effects on people in times of crisis. Emotional individuals including victims, their families, or the exasperated public can be easily manipulated and angered. Violent words lead to violent actions causing chaos and riots which a country like ours cannot afford at a time like this. Information becomes distorted making it hard to distinguish real evidence and facts from falsely manifested information that can make investigations slower and harder to resolve.

On a personal level it is easy for us separate ourselves from racially and politically biased groups. However, each one of us plays a bigger role in the consequences our country now faces than we would like to admit.

Think back on every message you passed on. What was the image/ video? What was the purpose of sending it? And who did you send it to? Your message does not end with the person or group you forward it to. It will carry on, reaching thousands of Sri Lankans, not all of whom are as balanced in judgement, careful in their actions, or rational in their opinions as you. Could your message have travelled through a chain of people and reached the inbox of an individual who was responsible for joining a mob that burnt down an innocent Muslim citizen’s shop or home? No matter how minute the role, could you have played a part in instigating anger and frustration that led to violence actions? Can you guarantee that you have had no role to play?

What can you do instead, to be a responsible citizen, to support the country in its time of need.

1. Don’t use patriotism as a pretext for racism.

Racism and patriotism are not the same. If you are biased or prejudicial against any race, religion or ethnicity, don’t pretend to be patriotic when circulating those sentiments. You may have personal biases but be direct about your opinion without hiding behind nationalism or patriotism. Being patriotic is loving and respecting all citizens equally, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

2. Pay attention to the details

Almost all chain messages and infographics are created with an intention. Sometimes these intentions are not obvious and are meant to prompt anger, fear, or violence. Think about the subtext of your message or underlying imagery that may be used to promote biased agendas.

a. Colours: Colours could be used deliberately (to represent political parties, colours of the Sri Lankan flag could be removed to discriminate minorities, red and black prompting violence)

b. Symbols (representing political parties, racial superiority (yellow lion), check if all religious symbols are included)

c. Language (derogatory words used on particular ethnicities/ communities,is your message calling for action vs. calling for violence)

3. Purpose

a. What is your intention behind sending your message. Is it useful to the person you are sending it to? Is it relevant or important in helping the situation? Think about what effect you want, is that the effect that this message will have and if not what effect will it have?

b. Verify information you pass on. Always check who/what the source is. What sort of content do they generally circulate, what are their biases, what do they gain from promoting this message?

4. Be sensitive

a. Consider the people directly involved in your message (families of victims etc.) or the people who the message is about. Would you want such a message circulated if you were in their shoes?

Reporting racist or violent content is important. It is also just as important to make sure that what you circulate is verified, non-prejudicial, and useful, and that misinformation or violent content ends its chain at your device. Just taking a second before pressing the send button can make all the difference.