We live in an age when everything is instant. Instant coffee, instant noodles, instant information and most importantly, Instagram. Entertaining content and sensationalized news makes for a more interesting news feed. While gossip goes viral in an instant, unbiased and neutral news items lag far behind. Truth and legitimacy are not fun for a generation growing up in a world where everything comes fast and leaves even faster. This is the perfect backdrop for false news, gossip, and the dangers of prejudice.
The perfect example is the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka. Not only did the victims of the attacks face grave loss and damage to their lives but the riots that followed plunged the country into further chaos. There is no doubt that these incidents were not organic but were a crude manipulation of the shock and injured emotions of certain citizens provoked into anger. Violent words lead to violent actions and social media is the ideal platform to prompt instant reactions.
The responsibility lies in the hands of everyone. Quite literally, in the devices we carry in our hands. While it is easy to separate ourselves from racially biased violent groups, the messages we send out and the posts we share on social media play a large role in propagating such action.
To be a responsible citizen, you must be aware of the effects of the message you spread.
1. Don’t use patriotism as a pretext for racism.
Racism and patriotism are not the same. If you are biased or prejudicial against any race, religion or ethnicity, don’t pretend to be patriotic when circulating those sentiments. You may have personal biases but be direct about your opinion without hiding behind nationalism or patriotism. Being patriotic is loving and respecting all citizens equally, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.
2. Pay attention to the details
Almost all chain messages and infographics are created with an intention. Sometimes these intentions are not obvious and are meant to prompt anger, fear, or violence. Think about the subtext of your message or underlying imagery that may be used to promote biased agendas.
a. Colors: Colors could be used deliberately (to represent political parties, colors of the Sri Lankan flag could be removed to discriminate minorities, red and black prompting violence)
b. Symbols (representing political parties, racial superiority (yellow lion), check if all religious symbols are included)
c. Language (derogatory words used on particular ethnicities/ communities, is your message calling for action vs. calling for violence)
a. What is your intention behind sending your message. Is it useful to the person you are sending it to? Is it relevant or important in helping the situation? Think about what effect you want, is that the effect that this message will have and if not, what effect will it have?
b. Verify information you pass on. Always check who/what the source is. What sort of content do they generally circulate, what are their biases, what do they gain from promoting this message?
4. Be sensitive
a. Consider the people directly involved in your message (families of victims etc.) or the people who the message is about. Would you want such a message circulated if you were in their shoes?
Reporting racist or violent content is important. It is also just as important to make sure that what you circulate is verified, non-prejudicial, and useful, and that misinformation or violent content ends its chain at your device. Just taking a second before pressing the send button can make all the difference. Think about your message; what’s your point?