Inspector General of Police Kashmir Zone Syed Javaid Mujtaba. Gillani has said that the police are looking into the regulation of such pages, especially after the pulse polio vaccine incident.

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|| K.LEADER DESK

              In the past, Kashmir police registered six cases in different police stations against the rumour-mongers and arrested a youth in Pampore for posting false news on his Facebook page. What happened to those FIRs though? No one knows. At that time, Kashmir’s inspector-general of police, SJM Gillani has said that the police is looking towards the ‘regulation’ of such pages. Former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was ‘killed’ nine times on similar Facebook pages before he actually passed away on 7 January at AIIMS.

           On WhatsApp groups, he was declared dead dozens of times and no one ever apologised for circulating or posting fake news. A few days ago, when protests erupted in Handwara town after allegations of molestation by an Army soldier, two people died and a woman was hit by a bullet. Before Raja Begum actually died during the night at a Srinagar hospital, she was killed many times on these ‘news’ pages. The very next day, a youth was killed in a village in nearby Handwara and another was critically injured. However, on WhatsApp and Facebook pages, they both were declared dead.

          The false news posted by such groups led to confusion with two prominent newspapers falling for the trap on two occasions, only to retract later. Last year, when the police rounded up some persons for spreading rumours on social media, most turned out to be students or people who had nothing to do with journalism. The rumours are becoming more varied. A WhatsApp group run by a youth dealing in wooden furniture spread a message that a mosque had been excavated below a metro station in Delhi. He wrote, “media iss baat ko chupa rahe hain….isliyee is baat ko door tak falayeee (the media is hiding it, let’s spread it too far),” wrote the group admin.

         The Delhi Metro authorities did discover a mosque in 2012 while building a station but the purpose of this message is anyone’s guess. Similarly, another person who runs a travel agency said he would spend lot of time surfing the Internet and in 2010, when everyone was looking for news during the peak of the summer agitation in Kashmir, he launched a Facebook page, drawing a large number of followers.

       “You have to copy paste as nothing else is possible so quickly,” said the admin of the page. Kashmir Inspector General of Police S.J.M. Gillani has said that the police are looking into the regulation of such pages, especially after the pulse polio vaccine incident.

       At Kashmir University, media research scholar Danish Nabi underlines the problems of what he calls “WhatsApp journalism”. “Of late, every second person in Kashmir has started behaving like a journalist. And the easy availability of the Internet, especially social media, has provided them with a platform to express their idea without the checks and balances that are part of journalists’ professional conduct,” he said.

      Yusuf Jameel, who has reported for the BBC from Kashmir and is considered to be among the most reliable journalists in the region, called these activities not just unethical but criminal. “Such persons, on hearsay, update anything on social media and in such a manner that it seems authentic. It creates confusion. If action is not taken against such people, it will be a big problem. Such people can be discouraged only if the authorities take stern action,” said Jameel.

      Kashmir University’s Senior Assistant Professor at the Media Education Research Centre, Syeda Afshana, agreed that tough action was necessary. “Against the backdrop of the recent polio vaccine rumour, the responsibility lies with the government as well as professional journalists.

      The regulation and gatekeeping of social media is required and also a vibrant media watchdog which can take cognizance of such issues,’ said Afshana, who also writes on media issues in her weekly column, Freeze Frame. She believes that if professional journalists, civil society and journalism schools act together – as well as the government – the menace can be curbed. “The polio rumour is just an alarm bell. If we leave it unattended, it will snowball into something worse. We have to take cognizance and stop it right now,” she said.

Against the backdrop of the recent polio vaccine rumour, the responsibility lies with the government as well as professional journalists. The regulation and gatekeeping of social media is required and also a vibrant media watchdog which can take cognizance of such issues,’ said Afshana, who also writes on media issues in her weekly column, Freeze Frame.