Rumours have been powerful tools in determining the activities of people for generations, and that, the degree of modernity does little to inhibit the power of rumours – we have good tracks of them.
One morning sometime in the late 1970s, this writer woke up to see his villagers rushed to stock up food supplies following rumours that some sort of unspecified calamity would occur the next day. A few days later, when the calamity did not happen, this writer also witnessed elders of the village making futile attempts to find out the origin of the rumours.
It was reported that the brisk banana market in China was badly affected in 2007 following rumours that the fruit grown in certain parts of that country contained viruses similar to the dreaded SARS. The market limped back to normalcy after official clarifications were made.
Sometime in the early part of October in 2008, it was reported that the Apple shares dropped sharply following “an erroneous Web report saying founder of Apple and CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack.” A report said that Apple shares quickly recovered after it became clear that the ‘heart attack story’ was just a rumour.
Often the communal conflicts are attributed to be aggravated by unsubstantiated reports, planted deliberately or otherwise. One such violent religious conflict in Bangladesh in 1990 was reportedly triggered by rumours that Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India was demolished, according to Wikipedia site. In fact, the demolition of Babri Masjid occurred on December 6, 1992.
Some years ago rumours had also triggered for the exodus of people of the Northeast living in the ‘mainland’ India.
Two years ago, many people were seen vacating from high rise buildings after the January 4, 2016 earthquake that hit the Northeast India. Rumours were doing the round then that another earthquake of over 9 Richter scale in magnitude would occur soon. Some messages on social media were complete with the specific date and time of the ‘coming calamity’.
Rumours had also played their parts in the recent communal tension in Shillong. Nagaland is not an exception to such phenomena. Most recently, the rumours of “Kidney hunters and eye scoopers” were at their height on social media, triggering panic in the society as well as citizen’s vigilantism.
Now, the challenge before all of us is to recognise the challenge of rumours shaping and determining our mindset and activities.
It is imperative to identify whether the mongers of such wrong information consider their indulgence is harmless fun or they are up to some serious business. Such identification will comprehensively explain the whole affairs so that it allows the concerned authorities to understand clearly the different levels of the affairs, and accordingly sensitisation measures can be conducted. Nagaland Police’s appeal for caution while circulating info on social media today is a right intervention. It should be supplemented by taking action against those responsible for rumourmongering and creating panic in the society.