The role of social media
There are almost 4.39 billion Internet users. Nearly 90 per cent of them use various social media tools. In many countries social media is used for education, knowledge-sharing, online lectures, business growth and social networking. Business communities conduct online business meetings using active social media networks. Business promotions and social service messages are also some of the frequent uses of social media. Almost all survey takers use social media tools for various types of surveys.
In Pakistan the picture is a little different. Pakistan has 159 million cellular phone users, out of which 66 percent are 3G or 4G users, 68 million broadband users, including those who use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Almost 50 per cent of the social media use is anything but productive. Given the lack of awareness and proper guidance, a majority of the users in the country are not deriving optimum benefit from social media. For several years now, the social media channels have been used by extremist groups of all descriptions for propaganda purposes. Many users are sharing and promoting fake news.
How to track the fake social media users causing panic and mayhem by posting fake news is an important question
Most fake users use social media a negative ways. There are no effective controls or ways to track such users. This has allowed some of them to cause hype, panic and disruption with impunity. Some of the fake users are involved in cyber terrorism, electronic forgery, harassment, cyber stalking and spamming.
Some of the major political parties too have been circulating and posting baseless reports through their social media teams. Some of the fake accounts are being used regularly to initiate baseless posts. Some of the similarly fake accounts regularly share only fake news. There is a pattern of deliberately causing unrest and anarchy.
To prevent the negative use of social media networks, the parliament passed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act in 2016. Following serious harm, including damage to property and loss of lives, resulting from such activities the government has decided to regulate social media networks.
Back in early 2000s, the issuance of SIM cards against fake documents led to a spate of criminal activities. Once the government improved the regulation of the SIM card issuance system, and linked it to the NADRA database and biometric system, there was considerable improvement in several classes of crimes. Now we have a very strong mechanism for SIM card issuance; only verified SIMs are used, and in case of a criminal offence relevant authorities can track down and catch criminals.
So how we can track and control fake social media users involved in causing panic and disruption by sharing and posting baseless reports? This ought to be rather simple. Nearly 95 per cent of the cellular users in Pakistan are verified. The authorities can request the social media companies to make it mandatory for social media users to provide a cell phone number at the time of sign-up. The regulation can be extended to the existing users as well. The system should not allow new ID with the same cell phone number. The contact number should not be visible on a user’s profile on any social media network, but in case of an emergency, it should be available to the law enforcement.
Given the lack of awareness and proper guidance a majority of the social media users in the country does not derive the optimum benefit from it
This will allow the authorities to track down and handle social media users who are involved in criminal activities. Some social media networks already ask for verification using a cell phone number or email address. Making the verification mandatory and linking a user ID to a unique cell number can reduce criminal use of the IDs. In the rare case of persisting criminal use the offenders may be tracked and punished.
The government should also start awareness programmes at all levels, especially for children and students in schools, colleges and universities about the responsible use of social media. Awareness raising activities should also be taken up on print, electronic and social media.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.