The unrest in Punjab over incidents of desecrations against the Guru Granth Sahib saw people spread messages of protest and post information, much of which is unverified, over social networking sites.
Right from the first incident of desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib in a village in Faridkot district, people had started posting pictures and messages over WhatAsapp, Facebook and Twitter.
The pace of information hastened after police firing claimed the lives of two people. Photographs of the injured and the dead were put out within a span of minutes.
The lack of credible information from official sources was one of the prime reasons why messages spread like wildfire over social media.
Numerous groups sprang up on social media sites which were passing on details regarding closure of roads, police highhandeness and laxity on part of the government. Many of them are suspected to have been run by Punjabis living abroad.
Some messages even carried ‘news’ of the Army being deployed in Amritsar and widely exaggerated numbers of people killed police action against the protesters.
Speaking to The Indian Express, senior SAD leader and Member of Parliament Prem Singh Chandumajra said developments on social media over the past few days have made it very clear that a code of conduct is required over it.
“We have said this in party forums too. There are several states where there are rules regarding social media activities, such as in Kerala, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir. The moot point is that someone should be answerable for what they post on social media,” said Chandumajra.
One video which went viral on WhatsApp purportedly showed a lathi charge taking place in Kotkapura. However, a close look at the footage showed that the incident was an old one and some of the policemen and protesters could be seen wearing winter clothes.
A senior police officer who analysed some of the videos which went viral in the past one week says that in this particular instance the video was of a lathi charge which took place some years back in Ludhiana.
A handful of social media savvy officials of the state Public Relations Department, however, tried their best to dispel incorrect news and appealed for unverified information to be disregarded.
In a reaction to the massive generation of traffic on social media, senior journalist Kanwar Sandhu tweeted, “Sukhbir Badal to blame for social media being hyperactive on Punjab by throttling fair Punjabi TV channels to beam on cable.”
The Punjab Government’s Twitter handle, which has just around 1,100 followers, totally failed to get a grasp on the crises at hand.
Beyond putting out a handful of official statements, the Twitter handle was found to be more involved in giving out press releases related to governance.
The Facebook account of the state government did not fare any better.
Here again, the authorities failed to utilise it as a force multiplier and instead put out bland statements of the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister. The comments of the general public to these posts ranged from abuses to ridicule and anger over the situation in the state.