The next national parliamentary election of Bangladesh, which is slated to take place at the start of the following year, is rapidly approaching. Given the current economic downturn and potential political unrest, this election will have to overcome a number of obstacles. But in this day of social media, distribution of false information and rumors may turn out as a huge difficulty. So, safeguarding the populace against such schemes would be crucial for the upcoming parliamentary election.
In Bangladesh, social media has frequently been abused to foment social, religious, political, and economic conflict. Misrepresentation, deception, and harmful content have caused extensive damage. The 12th national parliamentary election will take place in about nine months, and social media will undoubtedly be used to fan the flames of political unrest throughout this time. The Bangladeshi government and law enforcement authorities will need to be more cautious in how they manage this issue if they want to keep peace in the entire country.
As we move from “Digital Bangladesh” to “Smart Bangladesh,” nearly everyone today has a smartphone in their possession. People can easily communicate with the rest of the world from large cities to isolated villages. Through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media, everyone is instantaneously informed of what is occurring in the world. In Bangladesh, 80% of internet users have a Facebook account. Several groups are working to profit unlawfully from it.
According to a recent study, some people have made it their job to propagate rumors. Nonetheless, it is said that they receive funding for this from both strong opposing parties and online sites. Globally, it is taking place. Bangladesh’s national elections are less than a year away and for this group the business season is ahead. Many consumers from Africa, South and Central America, the USA, and Europe have already received their services.
To mislead people or instill panic among the public, rumors are propagated. Some people profit from ambiguity. Several scholars believe that rumors are a subset of propaganda. In our nation, several opposition parties have used this subset as a political tool. Many political workers constantly read these rumors and lies, and some of them even act on them.
Fake news can take one of three different forms: it can be entirely false information, photos or videos that have been purposefully created and disseminated to confuse or mislead people, some old information, photos or videos that have been manipulated to appear new while being shared, or satire or parody that is harmless but has the power to fool people.
A few years ago, protests about quota reform and the assurance of traffic safety had given rise to numerous false reports and posts. In Bangladesh, conflicts between communities based on such false posts are fairly routines. The first of this kind of attack was launched on the local Buddhist community in Ramu, Cox’s bazaar on September 29, 2012, instigated by tagging of an image violation of the Quran on Facebook timeline of a fake ID under a Buddhist name.
On October 30, 2016 at least 15 Hindu temples in Brahmanbaria’s Nasirnagar were vandalized by a group of 150 to 200 hooligans, who also targeted hundreds of houses in the local Hindu community over a Facebook post by a local fisherman named Roshraj Das demeaning Islam. The content was originally posted by ‘Noyon Chatterje’, a Facebook profile run by Chhatra Shibir activists to instigate hatred against Hindus.
On November 10, 2017, attackers set on fire several houses and looted the valuables of Hindus in Rangpur, alleging a Hindu man Titu Roy posting a status on Facebook defaming. Similar incidents were also recorded at Comilla in 2014 and Pabna in 2013. In March, 2013, a rumour was spread nationwide about image of convicted war criminal and Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayeedi to be seen on the moon. That rumour instigated people of Bogra to attack the local police station and 14 were killed and many injured.
With the widespread use of the internet, online news sources, and social media, it is obvious that fake news is a problem on a global scale more so than ever. However, there are some ways to spot fake news, including not believing any news that was not published by a reputable media outlet, examining the date a social media profile was created because it reveals its intention in relation to an ongoing event, looking at the previous posts of a fake news publisher because they reveal his agenda, and-most importantly-using our common sense before sharing a story while taking its influences into account.
Terrorist groups and non-state actors frequently utilize social media to instill fear among a wider audience. It makes clear that ISIS’s social media posts are meant to draw attention to the organization and sow terror among the public. By the use of social media, terrorists can influence governments by inciting unrest and terror among the populace. Before the next national elections in Bangladesh, we are mostly afraid of such acts.
If we exercise good judgment and moral principles, we can combat the phenomena of disinformation, fake news, rumors, and propaganda. We frequently become victims of such crimes because of a lack of proper education and a morally deficient educated group. The police are attempting to contain this issue, but merely finding a handful will have little impact. The elders of every household must try to improve the moral character of their family members and educate our people. It is not a legal battle; rather, it is a social one, and we must solve it to protect the future.
Social media misinformation or fake news might spark serious terrorist activities in our nation, especially with the impending national parliamentary elections. To combat this tendency, our law enforcement must maintain their focus. Otherwise, the future of our nation’s citizens will be in danger, and serious obstacles may stand in the way of our progress.
For citizens of Bangladesh, the Information Technology & Communication Act of 2006 provides some protection from abuse on social media. In order to control digital communications, the Act was first passed by the Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s administration in November. The ICT Act, 2006 was amended by an Ordinance on August 20, 2013, and the Parliament later approved it as legislation on October 9, 2013. The Legislation has received lots of criticism. Nonetheless, despite occasional misuse, if the law is applied effectively, people really gain from it. To stop the misuse of social media and to protect the interest of real journalists, the ICT Act, 2006 should be enforced more effectively without harassing anyone who is innocent.
The right to free expression is frequently used to preserve online transparency. However, freedom of speech cannot be linked to defamation or the abuse of any group or individual. The boundary must be clearly defined. The government and social organizations must undertake effective campaigns as needed. Because most Internet and social media users in Bangladesh lack sufficient education, the issue could get worse for us. Social media will be harder to govern in the future if we don’t assure good use of it now.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla