The media has been reporting many incidences of lynchings in India apparently caused by spread of rumours through the WhatsApp messaging system. Some of these may be “Fake” news and some may even be “Genuine” information which has evoked violent reactions due to the emotional content of the messages.
There was also a recent confusion created by news report that “Forwarding of a Message is equivalent to endorsing of a message”, arising due to a wrong interpretation of a Court decision.
In the light of the above, there have been some indications that WhatsApp itself may be introducing some changes into its system such as “Restricting forwards” or “Flagging a Forward” etc. Such measures are welcome.
However, the solution to the problem may not lie in merely restricting the forwards to five or indicating that a “forward is actually a forward”.
It is clear from the developments that many of the lynchings that occurred in recent days had a political over tone meant to discredit the current regime and build up a narrative for the forthcoming elections. Media which is biased in favour of the opposition is hand in glove with building of such a narrative. Hence in many instances, the forwarding of a message or publishing of a message is only an “Excuse” for a “Crime already contemplated”.
Since in many cases, the investigations are also biased, truth might not have come out.
While WhatsApp or Bolo may try to find their own methods to improve reliability of messages it is necessary for persons using different means of expression on the Electronic media to ensure that they follow certain ethical principles.
While every person who originates a message can take care at his personal level to be ethical and avoid deliberate false messages, we cannot rule out the need for forwarding of messages of doubtful veracity either to check if it is true or to fore-warn if there is a potential risk if the message is ignored. Hence some “Conditional Forwarding” should be possible without attracting the wrath of the law.
Flagging a forward as “Forwarded as Received, Authenticity not Checked or Guaranteed” could be a good disclaimer that can protect a person in law.
But over and above this, I propose that a voluntary “Ethical E Expression Consortium” (EEE Consortium) be formed which provide a “Virtual Editor” service to the individual publishers. The members should be able to load their expressions which may be blog articles or twitter messages or Facebook posts into the forum repository in the form of a link and let some body else review the comment and suggest their removal if it is necessary. The authors may either post their message and then seek a review or wait for a while before publishing their messages so that some reviewer can alert them if they are going overboard.
This would be a self regulation for bloggers before the Government comes up with its own regulation which all of us may later criticise as “An Assault on Free Expression”.