The modern information technology provides an excellent podium for its utility for public benefit or it can also be employed for creating panic among the local population. Any person having multiple electronic connections and exclusive social capital base may create an event through transmitting a message in the form of audio or video messages. Such e-transmissions establish an imagery before the reader or viewer based on message contents and video graphics. The limited time span can canalise vision of a receiver who accepts these messages instantaneously without bothering to verify its context and theme. Sometimes a person uses a graphical detail and couples it with a baseless news item having no relevance and connection with it. It has also been observed that old video or audio messages are reproduced to establish relevance with a current incident or occurrence. Such digital fudging produces significant impression on a human mind which tries to establish significance between a fresh episode with a message containing an old pictorial display of a past affair. At times, these messages cause psychological dissension and mental disturbance leading towards emotional haemorrhages which often culminate in vandalism and street protests. Initially, social media picks up the spikes of such an event and once it becomes a trend, the electronic and print media follow suit. The multiplicity of messaging among wide range of socio-cultural demographic samples results in connecting people of various economic backgrounds.
Recently, we have seen an incident in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa when a message was shared on social media in which it was depicted that hundreds of children became unconscious in different cities during anti-polio campaign in the province. Initially, the panic pervaded on the suburbs of Peshawar on April 22, 2019 when it was reported by the electronic media that many schoolchildren in Badaber area of the provincial capital fell ill after being treated with an anti-polio vaccination. Soon the parents and their relatives along with people of locality started protesting against the incident, and miscreants torched a basic health unit in the area. The local law-enforcement agency and district administration went into action to control the damage. Scores of parents took their young ones to nearby hospitals for medical examination, and mosques were used to relay announcements against the provincial anti-polio campaign. All this was happening in the backdrop of a series of polio virus detection in various cities in the country. Hence, the misinformation not only caused law and order situation in Peshawar but also damaged a noble cause for eradication of polio in Pakistan. In the end, it was determined that the event was created by someone who was pitched against the anti-polio drive and administration of polio drops to the schoolchildren. The video was based on a drama staged by few students which went viral on social media resulting in a psychological snowballing effect, generating public disorder.
The important point here is to determine how to overcome such disinformation and fake reporting on digital medium. Is there any mechanism in place with local police and administration to take timely cognisance of such social media hype? Can a pre-emptive social trending signal alarm bells to alert the law-enforcement agencies in the area? In the particular incident, damage to public property could not be averted nor was anyone effectively restrained during the attack on the Badaber basic health unit. The provincial health minister held a press conference later and tried to expose the malicious objectives of the principal accused in the whole episode.
The police and the local administration are least equipped to monitor social media activities going on in an area or conduct a regional trend analysis in order to determine whether or not any cyberspace-based activity can translate into a potential law and order situation. After the incident, the police registered a case against the culprits involved in staging the incident to create an event on social media for personal gains. As a result of the cyber media frenzy, a police official lost his life while performing his anti-polio campaign duty in district Bannu. The polio workers were attacked with knives in Lahore and the refusal rate against polio vaccination surged in Islamabad.
The provincial civilian intelligence agencies should have the wherewithal to monitor cyberspace and provide valid inputs to the provincial police departments in case they observe something unusual and abnormal in the cyber-trending mechanism. Moreover, the local police at the regional or provincial level may have a cyberspace unit for sentiment analysis cross-cutting different aspects of governance in a district or region. Establishment of safe cities in the country can change the internal security landscape as they provide a continuous stream of data 24/7 and have the capacity to conduct big data analysis. The artificial component in the system can trigger alarms to local law-enforcement agencies if the input into the system detects anything atypical or matches a suspected face or fingerprint to send a warning to the system administrator who, in turn, cautions the police about the situation and pinpoints the particular individual through video feedback. The system can also act as an integrated mechanism whereby it is connected to maximum number of departments in a city to provide them with valid input and coordination for pre-emptive action. The system can, at a later stage, act as an augmented reality network, thus moving towards the concept of smart city where the available data can readily be used for performance analysis of each department and provide opportunity to frame policies to confront any eventuality well in advance.
The future of law and order and public peace lies in cyber security media management. An exclusive monopoly of control over cyber-media data needs to be maintained by government if it wants to control unexpected incidents and avoid surprises in years to come.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2019.