The rat that shook Baluchistan!

It has become a pressing issue to control the damage caused by viral posts carrying misinformation
"The video got millions of views and thousands of comments from the netizens which included a good number of ‘who is who’."
"The video got millions of views and thousands of comments from the netizens which included a good number of ‘who is who’."Screengrab

In the last few weeks, a 26-second video went viral across the globe on social media, particularly Twitter, where a rat was captured chomping on a piece of cake during a meeting in Srinagar.

Amusingly, the video drew amusing reactions from the social media communities, who could not believe what they were watching. The video got millions of views and thousands of comments from the netizens which included a good number of ‘who is who’.

Even as the majority of viewers expressed their delight to watch the rat munching on the cake, there was a section of social media users who seized the opportunity to breed negativity while taking a dig at the institute where the meeting was held. Unfortunately, they exploited the opportunity and promoted it to cause reputational damage to some institutions.

Anything that goes viral on social media, be it in a written form, image or a video clip, it’s bound to get a mixed reaction, both positive and negative comments. Those being the subject of the viral post have to remain mentally strong as they won’t escape harsh comments loaded with a huge risk of impacting their credibility and image.

Before we delve into the incident, let’s first understand the viral posts on social media. In simpler terms, it’s the users’ content, be it in written form, image or a video, on social media platforms that is shared widely in a short period of time. Even as the numbers, for a viral post vary, the fact is that millions of users across various platforms get engaged in the post. A viral post leaves a huge impact on people and the brand. 

Let me not elaborate the global scenario of viral posts on social media and stick to the video clip starring the rat which hit the international media headlines.

Discussing the video clip merits a space in today’s column after coming across thousands of varied comments from the netizens. Interestingly, there were scores of comments suggesting that the video was an artistic work of video graphics, which it was not.

Remarkably, the video is not stage-managed. However, the arrival of the rat on the dais and then chomping the pieces of cake was intentionally captured through a mobile camera during my interaction with media students. In fact, it was a God-driven opportunity to explain to the students of journalism how to make something out of nothing.

Precisely, during my interaction with the media students, we spotted a rat roaming around the venue and within no time boarded the dais where the host, who himself is an internationally acknowledged film maker and had invited me to the interactive session, was sitting beside me. We didn’t lose time to decide not to interrupt the rat but to capture him munching on the piece of cake. So, in a way, it was an instant ‘produced & directed’ video clip by us (me and my host). As one would find in the video clip, the interaction continues uninterrupted while the rat was chomping the cake fearlessly.

It was astonishing to come across ‘rubbish’ comments where some local (J&K) netizens without ascertaining the facts criticised the organisation which was in no way connected to the event. However, the majority of them got engaged in the debate for fun and were deriving pleasure out of it. There were even responses to the video clip which triggered an interesting debate around the presence of a rat as ‘good omen’. For instance a netizen posted that “in the Chinese culture, the rat represents wisdom, wealth and prosperity’.

However, in an interesting situation, the rat starred video clip shook Balochistan when in its viral mode it reached Pakistan where a caption was pasted on the video claiming that the “Rat was enjoying Balochistan Chief Secretary’s cake while meeting.” The Pakistani media used the story in their own way only to bring embarrassment to the Baluchistan administration.  In fact several social media users, including some influencers and media outlets in Pakistan shared the video stating that it is from a meeting of Chief Secretary Balochistan. After creating an uproar, particularly in Balochistan, some organisations in Pakistan performed a fact check and later cleared that the video clip was from Srinagar, Kashmir. In fact, the video had initially come to light in the neighbourhood after the news channel, NDTV, shared it on its platform on December 5. However, the breed of netizens active there in disseminating fake news, released the video under the name of Chief Secretary Balochistan.

Despite some nuisances attempted by some negligible social media users, the rat kept millions of people across various social media platforms engaged on a positive note. In the context of my interaction with the students of journalism, the rat lent support to make them understand the nuances of news reporting, especially when it comes to creating human interest stories out of nothing. The rat even introduced the students to the social media viral world and the incident can go a long way to teach them about the practice of responsible journalism through various media outlets. 

Meanwhile, misinformation is a growing menace and social media is proving a breeding ground for this. It has become a pressing issue to control the damage caused by such misinformation campaigns.

Most users who generate misinformation do not share accurate information. For instance, the rat-video was not fake, but some mischievous users gave a misleading caption to it to vomit their bias against an organization which was not connected to the event. The misinformation campaigners attempted to use the mere presence of a man from the organization to malign its image. However, in the end facts prevailed.

What we have observed is that the flow of misinformation on social media platforms functioning with a mix of human and technical factors, is always at lightning speed. Inflammatory posts in whatever form always tend to generate quick engagement of the netizens. Once they get engaged, the technical side of the platform gets invoked and the users begin to like, reply, retweet and share the posts, the newsfeed algorithm expands the network to unimaginable distances and shows it to more users. As explained by an IT expert, ‘it’s at this point it taps into the biases of those users too - prompting even more engagement, and so on.’ In its worst form, this networking turns social media into a kind of ‘confirmation bias machine’ and serves as a readymade platform to disseminate misinformation.

Lastly, a word of caution for people. Anything that goes viral on social media platforms should be subjected to fact-checking. The growing misinformation campaigns running on various sites makes sense to cross check the information for accuracy. One should not approve it blindly. Precisely, you have to help yourself against misinformation posts going viral on the Internet.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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