SEEMA MUNIZ recounts how she was once part of a group that set about spreading propaganda and making people believe in it. At that time, it was all so thrilling, but today, she knows better and asks you to look for the reason behind every so-called news item forwarded on WhatsApp

Say Cheese!” Click. ‘Oh this is horrible. We all look as though we have just woken up from a nightmare! Could we try just one last time, please’. Another ‘cheese’ and click…and the same faces once more bore themselves on the screen. 

‘Beautiful  family Christmas portrait’, friends commented.

‘Our tech-savvy photographer managed to tweak up the photos a bit, and paste a nice smile on everyone’s face,’ was a comment from one of the persons in the picture.

Anyone, who saw the photo that holiday season, could not have remotely guessed as to what the actual mood of the moment had been. 

Seema Muniz

Such moments, while making one  appreciate the wonders of technology, also give rise to much scepticism. The thinning line between what’s real and what’s not, leaves us in a state of continuous conflict. The increasing chasm between the real, and what is presented as real, and resultantly, what is accepted as real seems to have catapulted the human consciousness into a domain of chaotic rashness. Only a few behind-the-scene people know the actual picture, and they manipulate it to serve their own interests.

Just as photographs can be tweaked to fool the world, so also can be accounts of factual happenings. Sometimes, these are changed so much that they lead to fake stories being circulated on WhatsApp. 

The number of fake stories circulating on WhatsApp in the last few years could be cited as a classic example of the increasing duality of the modern world. The intricate overlapping of false messages with true ones, has woven a fake informational fabric which makes it harder and harder to decipher one from the other. This, in a country like ours does more harm than good, creating more hatred amongst communities through polarising messages. In the last few years, such irresponsible and fake WhatsApp messages have lead to mass hysteria, lynching, and  bludgeoning of several innocent people. 

In a survey done by MIT, false news is seventy per cent more likely to get re-tweeted than authentic news. However, the use of subterfuge in the communication world is not a recent phenomenon. 

In 1992, there was a much-talked about covert operation that took place in a reputed media house in our own country. The operation aimed at stopping the entry of foreign media. The reason behind it stemmed not from a sense of deep-rooted or bigoted patriotism, but from resentment at not being the natural choice for a tie-up with a distinguished London-based financial newspaper. This newspaper, gearing up to conquer the Indian market by appealing through its professionalism to the savvy Indian investor, should have, by all account, chosen the most prestigious, the most circulated, the most established Indian counterpart. 

But, it had not. Instead, it had opted for the Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) group of West Bengal. So, the capital’s media mogul came abuzz with schemes to kill the burgeoning collaboration between what it perceived as two unequal partners. Like a spoilt child, whose wish was not granted, it set about hatching a plot against the competitor, who had, by some good fortune bagged the contract. 

Be responsible for what you are forwarding through an SMS or on WhatsApp

A certain Nehru Forum was formed. A certain unsuspecting freedom fighter, who happened to be a staunch Gandhian from Bangalore was requested to chair this forum, which sought to protect the rights of citizens, and the true freedom of this country. Needless to say, the chairperson came armed with a heavy sack of morals and ethics, and believed in preserving the integrity of Indian culture, and promoting its intrinsic values.  

An office was set up, manned by two young girls, happy to be part of such a thrilling conspiracy. The office, a tiny cubicle within the main building of the media house consisted of just one table, and two old-fashioned phones, with new numbers. One of the two young girls happened to be me. Our job was to obtain the phone numbers of foreign dignitaries, politicians, prominent thinkers and journalists and invite them to the upcoming seminar on the evils of the entry of foreign media. We introduced ourselves as the concerned members of the eminent Nehru Forum, our sole interest being to protect the legacy and vision of our forefathers. 

The seminar was held at the ICCI and was well-attended, and more importantly, rigorously covered by the press. Successively, many such seminars were held throughout the country, and no one realised how bizarrely ridiculous the whole situation was. No one except the media house which sat behind the curtains, masterminding the cabal. 

In the fourth estate, executives were running around getting clippings of the coverage the event had received from various publications. They were pleased by its outcome, and by the sheer ingenuity of the plot. In corporate meetings, from behind closed doors, we could hear peals of laughter rolling on the carpet, and bouncing off the walls. They had managed to create a stir where none existed… make ripples without even having to throw an actual pebble into any water.

So,  every time you read something, try reading between the lines, when you see something on the television, try looking for the real picture…for we are living in an era where the word has lost its sanctity, and vision its credibility. Pause and ponder about the ‘real’ story behind the scenes. What is being fed to us through various media channels and WhatsApp messages may be a trap to divert one’s attention from actual issues.

Seema Muniz, a feature writer with the Times of India group in the nineties, is an avid reader and educationist, who homeschooled her son until tenth grade, while drifting between New York and Alaska with her family. She is also an artist, with a few solo and group shows in Albany, NY, to her credit. 

Featured Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay 

Second photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay