The fact that social messaging services such as WhatsApp have practically transformed the way we communicate is a truism. But, what is the reliability of the human mind that operates this service? The question is moot.
In the recent past, WhatsApp subscribers have received several messages that are purported to be from genuine sources about child kidnapping gangs operating across Mumbai, Thane and the neighbouring districts. These, however, have been rubbished as rumours by the Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria and the superintendent of police of Palghar, the district where the messages seemed to have originated.
These messages, detailed to the extent of providing pictures of alleged kidnappers, have been circulated among thousands of parents, who went into a state of panic. So much so that many approached this newspaper and various police authorities to get reassurance whether their children will be safe in schools or elsewhere.
While parents need to be extremely vigilant about their children at all times, it would be wrong to presume that they would be able to do that all times. It is practically not possible. Hence the fear. However, these messages have turned out to be false. In this case, parents seem to have forwarded these messages without even verifying the truthfulness of the communication.
It is the sheer ease of Whatsapp that allowed them to do so. While technology is a great tool, the human tendency to believe the worst news possible has made it possible for this news to spread far and wide, and create citywide panic. This is where self-regulation comes in. These messages may be well-intentioned, but the way they are formatted should activate anybody’s “this is so wrong” radar. Perhaps we need to be more cynical in our approach towards these messages.