In the past few weeks, I have noticed we are suddenly falling victims to the emergence of social media. Be it the Facebook, Twitter or simple text messaging, it now has virtually taken over the norms of decency or honesty and integrity and has been replaced by vile, vulgar, accusatory un-investigated jargon. This may suit a few handful, in serving their purpose (being the originators of falsehood in the first place), but on the whole negates the very principals of a progressive society, that marks the pillars it is supposed to be standing on. Suddenly a strong need is felt to be able to differentiate between spreading lies and honestly held opinions.
A) The supposed murder of the daughter of the former Chief Justice, by her own father.
B) The television anchors supposedly bribed heavily and reports of newspapers and channels getting Rs 4.5 billion not to air PTI public gatherings.
C) Saman Hasnain; a former Mrs Pakistan in the USA fleeing the country after scamming huge sums of money from investors into a fraudulent housing scheme.
The less said about the first two, the better. However, it must be extremely excruciating and painful for the family of the young girl, who are definitely victims of a smear campaign that defies all norms of decency. The second story is not only a pack of lies and deception, but rather a very weak and feeble attempt by PTI’s own media team, that has no clue how to hang on to Imran Khan’s fast depreciating popularity. They seem to have felt like taking refuge behind a baseless smear campaign about the media itself, to cover up for their inadequacies and arrogant behavior. One does not know where it stops, for each one of Imran Khan’s family and close friends is now his media guru.
The third is a very alarming story for it not only tarnishes the image and impeccable professional record of a smart young lady, but also damages the reputation of Pakistan in the US to an abysmal degree. I first got to know about it from a Tweet that I got from a follower. The story was exciting and I immediately went after it. Lo and behold, yellow press in the USA carried it the next day. One thing that caught my attention was the similarity of the story, the catchy phrases and vocabulary used which was strikingly similar. Something any budding journalist can tell you is impossible, unless the story was being fed or picked up from a particular source of information.
Further investigation revealed the loose ends in the story. Saman had nothing to do with her husband’s business as accused, nor had any prior knowledge of the transactions and when the first charge was leveled against her spouse, she was busy setting up her own retail outlets in Pakistan with the help of her college friends. Ironically, she met with a terrible car accident that put her on bed for weeks, adding fuel to the fire and speculation that she had fled the USA, even though at the time of her departure there was no case against her or any family member. Intriguingly, on further investigation it dawns that, Saman, a two-times beauty pageant winner in the USA, was being accused of fraudulent activities by none other than the very women who also aspired for the same coveted crown and glory that comes with it. They were defeated by her looks and attacked the very strength with severe viciousness. They could not do that in a competitive environment, but the social medium that has very little attributed to it in terms of libel suits, served the purposes perfectly. To their delight the news was carried not only in various mediums, but also picked up by a hungry press who constantly use the unverified juicy stuff on the worldwide web to feed as morsels to their papers. Social media is not a gateway for an unruly mob. Social media is part of a shift where citizens are valuing personal expression, and are less interested in the thread of institutional accuracy.
Life, as it is now expressed over social media, is rarely clear-cut. It is evident, as in the case of Saman Hasnain. The fact is that it is being used to indulge in character assassination of innocent people, who have built an entire life out of sheer hard work and industriousness. Eventually, ending up trying to explain to each and everyone that they are not guilty, rather than the accuser explaining reasons or providing evidence as proof of their fabricated innuendos.
Whilst our readers and viewers readily levy heavy responsibilities on the mainstream media, they themselves dwell on rumours and circulating stories across the world, that are not only false at times, but at times simple fabrication. Ironically, some of the victims of the above are the mainstream journalists themselves, yet the time has come for revisiting laws pertaining to defamation of character in the allied and emerging areas of social media. For the first two, it may be a futile battle, but in the last case Saman Hasnain must file libel suits against her tormentors, who have been rude and tried to tarnish an otherwise unblemished career of hard work and conscientiousness. As a US citizen, she can do that since laws in those countries are still in favour of the innocent. But back home does it matter? For what once comes on the Facebook or YouTube is destined to stay forever. Phew! Anyone got a Panadol please?
n The writer is well known TV anchor.