On Saturday, panic-stricken parents were seen swarming towards tertiary care hospitals of Srinagar and other district hospitals, carrying their below 5-year-old children on their shoulders, load-carriers, cars etc after social media and particularly facebook was agog with the 'updates' that few (some even gave figures in thousands) children died soon after being administered expired polio drops.
By the time, it was established that it was nothing but a rumor, the situation had gone out of control. The authorities despite informing people through radio, television that no child had died anywhere in Kashmir, the crying and wailing parents stormed hospitals, refusing to listen in to the authorities. Doesn't it in a way suggest that people don't trust information disseminated by the government?
Rumor mongering is nothing new in any part of the world. Although there are isolated instances in the past where rumors have turned out to be a blessing in disguise as in the case of peasant rising just before the French revolution in 1789 after rumors spread about the burning of crops by the aristocrats, this no way justifies the art of rumors.
It has resulted in commotion, conundrum and even riots in various places. On Saturday, it created aa law and order situation outside every hospital. Reports said that people vandalised the hospital infrastructure, smashed the window panes forcing the doctors to run for their lives.
Internet and social media have become a carrier of sensation. Rumors emerge and spread like "wildfire" a metaphor used rightly to describe such kind of instances. Like anything and everything, it comes with a set of pros and cons. While social media helps you to learn about breaking news across the globe, on the other hand it is vulnerable to fake news and rumors.
While police claims to have arrested one person in connection with the Polio rumors, it is quite impossible to imagine there would be just one person behind all this. Zero tolerance should be shown against all the online rumor mongers. All these people who started and helped in spreading these rumors should be severely punished in order to set a precedent.
However, government also needs to take preventive efforts to contain the rumors. It is believed that rumors reflect the government's reluctance to disclose information about sensitive issues. So government should always reveal the truth about deaths etc so that people trust each and every world they hear from the horse's mouth.