TECHNOLOGY MISUSE: RUMOR HAS IT

SAMRAH AFTAB
July 07 - 13, 2008

Misuse (or abuse) of technology is a practice that is prevalent in local and international markets alike. It involves the execution of malicious plots designed to distort public perception of aims, manufacturing and financial affairs of certain corporations, as well as religious and political stances at times. This, in turn, entails considerable injury to the reputation of brands, organizations, people, political leaders and individuals.

A common method of slandering is the spread of scurrilous rumors. The larger a company, the more likely it is that rumors will circulate around it. Brand slanderers exploit various means of communication to achieve their illicit goals. A way of technology misuse is the spread of malicious and false SMS viral campaigns, email chains, pamphlets which target rumors about products, political situation, viruses etc. to unsuspecting individuals who are deceived into believing that the message came from an authentic source. This is a matter of global concern; incase of SMS campaigns, it has threatened the image of cellular companies worldwide while also causing serious setbacks to the brand corporations and individuals targeted.

In Indonesia, for instance, thousands of people residing on the Indonesian coast fled their homes in panic, after a widespread distribution of false text messages, warning people that The Gulf Times had reported of a tsunami being imminent. The regional meteorology and geophysics office said that the SMS warning did not come from their office. "Earthquakes and tsunamis cannot be predicted and we have not issued such a warning," says Rivai Marulak, Head, Meteorological and Geophysical Agency at Kupang, Indonesia. However, most residents refused to return to their coastal home fearing if the rumor should come true.

Pakistan too is not an exception in this regard. Take the example of last year's SMS hoax, when mobile service providers in Pakistan were inundated by calls from subscribers worried by a prank message that they could die of a deadly virus being transmitted via their phones. The rumor was so effective that some mosques in the country's biggest city, Karachi, announced that people were being killed by the mobile virus and they should be afraid of God's wrath. The country's leading news channel also broadcasted the rumor as fact, but was fortunately quick to quash the rumor too. The cellular service providers are the most affected victims of such false information's circulation. One false statement sent across to multiple recipients results into adverse consequences within seconds.

Adnan Ali works at Ufone in the complain resolution department. He lamented on the issue saying that there is no proper way to deal with such groups since any law against unregistered SIMs hasn't been fully implemented. Also, there is no definite law regarding the misuse of SIM cards, except for blocking the SIM, but with the easy and cheap availability of multiple cellular services, this action remains useless.

Whether false information is spread by emails, text messages or just word-of-mouth, the fact remains that misleading the masses is a crime. It is essential that various techniques be employed to curtail such reprehensible acts. With the growth of new media, such as MySpace and Facebook, crisis situations have even started occurring on the web.

This is why it is prudent to consider that new media could and should be used to combat crisis situations as well. We are well-aware of the merits of the internet as an ideal means of communication. Corporations no longer have to rely solely on the customary television broadcasts or print advertisements to properly manage a crisis. Corporations can now communicate with their consumer base using e-mail, web sites, podcasts, and more. The duty remains with not only the organizations, but the masses as well. Being sensible and responsible citizens of a civilized society, we must avoid becoming a part of this malicious act and should exercise caution. Any information that reaches us must be confirmed from authentic sources before spreading the word around.