Media Watch: The age of fear | Pakistan Today

Media Watch: The age of fear

It is grainy footage from, presumably, a CCTV camera. It’s a quiet street. Some cars, some trees and some kids playing. Two men come over on a motorbike, swerve and discreetly pick up one of the children and rush off.

This is a video that is going viral on WhatsApp in India. And has had more than 20 people lynched there, across the various provinces. Some WhatsApp Forwards have started attaching some colour commentary in text. Allegations against outsiders, Muslims, whomever, have resulted in mobs taking up arms.

The video, of course, has been cut short. The original video has the ‘kidnappers’ coming back, releasing the kid, to an audience of more cheering kids, and the pillion rider of the duo holding up a placard, with a message written on it, describing how easy it is for a child to be kidnapped and how parents need to be careful.

The video was made by an ad agency commissioned in Karachi, not even India, by a charity that works for the rescue and rehabilitation of missing children. Both agency and the charity, of course, are horrified at what their video has resulted in.

“Horrified,” is also the word that WhatsApp itself, acquired by Facebook in 2014, used. It said was  “horrified by these terrible acts of violence”, and that the situation is a “challenge that requires government, civil society and technology companies to work together”.

A rage against faceless corporates notwithstanding, one really can’t hold WhatsApp responsible either. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently appeared in front of a US congressional committee after the infamous Cambridge Analytica data breach. There is a lot of apprehension in the US, and the rest of the world, over how much data the company has on its users. The company maintains that though it might retain metadata (data about the data) it does not pore over the data itself. Asking WhatsApp or Facebook to crack down on fake news would require telling them to keep checking content itself. Both points of view can’t possibly be held simultaneously.

And if we were to miraculously jettison our concerns about privacy and give the go-ahead for cracking down on fake news, it would raise the debate on what fake news actually is, giving these corporations an even bigger power than they already have.


The problem with the current video under discussion isn’t that it is fake. What if it were actually shot in India, and was actually CCTV footage of a kidnapping case? It would still have been as horrific.

Fake news certainly is a problem that needs to be clamped down on. But what to do with the deep-rooted human suspicion of The Other? Muslims have been killed in the aforementioned lynchings. As was a poor Hindu youngster, who had reached Bangalore, looking for a job, unable to speak the local language properly, fitting some vague profile in the hive mind of the mob, and was killed.

The Tube

Media Watch column is meant to offer commentary on the affairs of the media.