Kathmandu: As the MCC Compact has been tabled in the parliament on Sunday, anti-MCC narratives, disinformation, and conspiracy theories have filled in both the real and virtual spaces. YouTube videos and online content with clickbaity titles and disinformation regarding MCC have become visible more than ever. Their visibility is getting multiplied as the public lacking media literacy tends to share them on a different platform as soon as their eyes get into them.
The Compact is now mired in unhealthy politicization and public misconception. Such contents in social media do nothing but add fuel to the fire.
What can’t social media do? It can ‘kill’ living ones, ‘arrest’ a prime minister, ‘split’ a political party. Disinformation has infected social media so much so that some headlines declare the imprisonment of prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, some say that the main opposition CPN-UML has split, some others claim the scenes in the Baneshwor area are more dolorous than in Syria and Afghanistan, some claim of a bomb blast in prime minister’s residence, and some report that American army have arrived and captured Nepal’s capital city.
Hullabaloo inside and outside the Parliament has intensified the false narratives. False headlines and content on Facebook and Twitter are misguiding people. What makes the situation pitier is that no concerned authority is putting minimal efforts to regulate and monitor such content, which could eventually incite violence, havoc and shake the societal order, damage private and public properties, injure people and police, and degrade Nepal’s reputation globally.
Who will take action against such content? Who will monitor disinformation in social media? The answer remains obscure.
“If cases are filed, actions will be taken. We will not make them the cases at first. If someone files a case, we can forward them to the press council,” said Fadindra Mani Pokharel, spokesperson at the Home Ministry.
But, the online news portals and YouTube channels posting such content are neither registered in the concerned body nor recognized as media.
Santosh Sigdel, a lawyer and Chair of Digital Rights Nepal, said that such content get an overwhelming number of views and shares. “It shows that such contents have a wide reach and readers and viewers who may not be discerning enough to differentiate fact from fabrication take such content as a source of news. This is not a good sign.”
If the portals are not registered as news sites at the Press Council, it will not monitor them. The Press Council especially monitors whether registered media abide by the code of conduct or not. “But there are some existing laws and provisions in the Criminal Code which prohibit the spread of misinformation. Also, some provisions in the Electronic Transaction Act are about contents,” he said.
According to Sigdel, the issue is also connected with the rights to freedom of expression which makes it complicated. If police administration and law implementing bodies start to check what they are writing and speaking, that may bring the issue of surveillance and monitoring in the freedom of expression. “A long-term solution needs to be explored. There should be media literacy campaigns for creating awareness among people about misinformation and disinformation to make them able to filter the content, he said, adding that the trend will eventually fade if such content don’t get viewers and isn’t monetized.
For Tara Nath Dahal, a commentator, the onslaught of disinformation in social media regarding the MCC is a deliberate campaign sponsored by some vested interest groups. “The country should have the technical capacity to filter hate and harmful content,” he said.
Such activities should be curbed, he added, in line with international norms of freedom of expression. “While surveillance of personal content is not acceptable, the state must find a way to minimize hateful content on social media that is in accordance with democratic values.”
It is a complicated issue, Dahal said, adding that it is very difficult to balance freedom of expression and filtering of hate content. “The country should not formulate any laws that limit people’s freedom and right to free speech.”
Dahal suggests that one way to minimize the risk of misinformation and disinformation is to have direct access to companies that own social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and have a mechanism to identify and filter hate comments, misinformation, and disinformation.