By Prarthana Mitra
Following directions from the Centre to take effective steps to tackle fake news on social media platforms, the Uttar Pradesh police announced to create a contingent of over 367,000 members of the community to serve as digital volunteers and monitor any suspicious online activity.
Digital Amry to curb fake news
The state’s director general of police OP Singh said on Thursday that each of the 1,469 police stations will set up a WhatsApp group comprising 250 members. These Digital Armies will include prominent residents like ex-servicemen, teachers, journalists, doctors and advocates among others, to keep a vigil on fake WhatsApp forwards currently claiming lives around the country.
They will serve as unofficial bastions of truth, in correcting their community’s notions regarding these messages. Besides, they will also be entrusted with the responsibility to bring such messages to the police’s attention, and share any “information, rumours, photographs and videos of their respective area,” Singh said.
“They should be influential, respected and peace-loving members of the society with a clean image,” he added.
According to Hindustan Times, this could also include school principals, police pensioners, former and sitting legislators, activists of social organisations, former and sitting village pradhans, members of block development councils, rural health workers, fair price shops owners, priests, clerics, businessmen, civil defence personnel, home guards and special police officers (drafted by the local police as a part of community policing).
Why it matters
Over the past few months, several cases of mob violence have come to light, with at least 27 deaths registered across the country since May. A thread of WhatsApp messages, crafted and spread with the intent to create mass panic, has been doing the rounds, warning citizens to beware of child kidnappers, thieves, and sexual predators, and motivating them to take law in their own hands.
The Information and Technology ministry said earlier this month, “While the law and order machinery is taking steps to apprehend the culprits, the abuse of platforms like WhatsApp for repeated circulation of such provocative content is equally a matter of deep concern.”
To curb incidents of lynching and violence due to rumours propagated through social media, the BJP government has also got in touch with the messaging app, directing them to take measures to avoid such malicious abuse of their platform. This comes as the latest step to tackle the social menace, which continues unabated.
Each ward, village, town or locality will have two volunteers, handpicked by a district level committee under the superintendent of police. Applications for interested digital volunteers are now open on uppolice.gov.in.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.