Red, White and Black


SMSing trouble
14 August, 2008, 9:28 pm
Filed under: general, Pakistan | Tags: , , , ,

This morning The Daily Times carried a news story that has me worried. The news story reports the incidence of controversial SMSes being spread in Karachi:

Some people in the city have been growing more and more worried about the fears of the alleged spread of ‘Talibanization’ especially with the appearance of incendiary graffiti, posters and cell phone text messages.

“Some families from [the name of a place in Sindh] arrived at [the name of a place in Karachi] and were taken upon by [the name of one linguistic group] who misbehaved with their women,” said one text message. “Their bodies were painted red and they were stripped naked… [One linguistic group] has given [the name of another group] a deadline to leave [an area in Karachi]. Think, are you going to do something or just talk? Send this SMS to all [one linguistic group] so that the nation awakens. Long live [the name of a political leader.”

Another message said: “An elder from [a place in the Punjab] has told the people of Sindh in a message to pray [a certain prayer] and ask their friends to do so because a great tragedy is about to befall the province. He sent a similar message to Balakot as well before the earthquake happened.”

This is coming in the backdrop of a series of reports over the past week which have warned against the imminent “Talibaniation” of Karachi. Karachi is already scared with ethnic warfare and fanning of hatred and anti-ethnic feelings in this manner does not bode well for the social fabric of the city.

I have witnessed the power of smses in another conflict recently. And the ability of these not-so-innocuous messages to spread fear and panic cannot be underestimated. The state can take a number of educational steps to counter the spread of such hatred, but the utlimate responsibility lies with the users. We are a country where sms forwarding is a hobby and we have to be extremely careful of what we are spreading. I hope that these messages fizzle out but they will do their damage if we don’t pause to think about them.

Edit: A related opinion piece.

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