The flip side of social media

Afew hours or minutes before fuel prices for the month are released, a fake list prepared on the exact template is shared on the social messaging platforms. During unstable weather conditions, images of rains, floods and hail from the past are circulated along with the real-time updates. These messages could be seen as “harmless mischief”, but there can be potentially serious ones — kidnap or murder — that can have far-reaching consequences. The authorities in Oman were forced to issue statements last week on rumours that sent shockwaves across the country.
The first case related to the alleged kidnap and rape of a girl, while the second was about the reported kidnap of two children, in which one was said to have been murdered. The other was said to have gone missing.
The police said legal action would be taken against those responsible for spreading false reports.
The police also denied rumours about the alleged murder of an aged woman and a three-month-old baby by a domestic worker in the capital.
The “timely” new Oman Penal Code is tough on those spreading false rumours. It stipulates prison terms varying between three months and three years for those intentionally disseminating false news, rumours at home or abroad that will undermine the prestige of the State or hurt its confidence in the financial markets, thereby affecting the financial position.
Fake news, rumours or gossip could pose serious consequences as they spread like wildlife within seconds.
Both personal and official invitations are shared through WhatsApp these days. Yet, these so-called free services are not without their pitfalls — messages are shared with thousands of people, including strangers, knowingly or unknowingly.
Rebacca, who retired as a teacher after 30 years in the profession, says popular social media platforms Facebook and WhatsApp have helped people keep in touch with friends and relatives from different generations.
She also adds a word of caution. “While you feel on top of the world to know how they (friends) and their children are faring in life, one should not put their life journey on public domain.”
Layala, a mother of two and a government employee, echoed the same feeling. “We can’t shut down messaging service, but people should be careful about their profile pictures, especially of children. They are needlessly exposed to strangers with vested interests.”
According to Majed Musallam, a corporate media executive, a lot of “personal events are needlessly shared in the public sphere”.
“Why should my colleagues or a person I met recently have access to any personal information?” he asks.
Users are also subject to phishing when they share links that take them to a website promising bounties.
“They get nothing but are made to compromise on personal information. Despite warnings from all stakeholders, people continue to fall into this trap,” said an IT expert.
According to Statista.com, an online market research and business intelligence portal, companies experience losses in billions due to cybercrimes, with a majority stemming from malicious code and denial of service attacks.
According to its report, cyber bullying is defined as the harming or harassing of people in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner, including cyber dating.

Vinod Nair