The Viral Insensitivity


Just a few weeks back, a seven year old boy was brutally murdered in Kerala. It was a heinous crime and the police got hold of the criminal. He was charged with grave sections in IPC that he might never see the day light again. It was heart breaking incident, may the soul of the kid rest in peace and let it never happen to another child – Everyone wished so. However, from the day after incident, the seven year boy was brutalized and killed over and over again in the cyber space.

The front page of major Malayalam online news portals started flooding with the news related to this incident. Sherlock Holmes’ in the media soon set out digging the past of the child’s mother, the criminal and their relationship. There were umpteen stories spun around the life of the unfortunate child. They did a complete background check on the criminal – his past life, his criminal exploits, and his ‘questionable’ relationship with the child’s mother. Every single thing in their lives were dissected and analyzed. The crime was being sensationalized by the media.  They followed every move of the accused – ranging from his behavior to the fact that he ate a mutton curry unaffected in the custody! The media didn’t stop at that. They interviewed the teachers and class-mates (remember the boy was only 7) of the boy and made heart-wrenching stories about the kid. They interviewed the hospital staff and even the ambulance nurse to get ‘crucial’ information about the behavior of the mother and the criminal on the fateful night.

Things went ugly when the same media invented that the mother was a ‘sex maniac’ and was trying to get rid of her kids. Media was doing the inquiry and they were passing the judgment.  It was painful opening Malayalam news portals those days. Every day they made sure that the readers saw that criminal’s face. As a mother, I wished if I could erase him from my brain, forever. The gory details of the violence committed by the accused against the child were retold with all minute details and with a skill that resembled Shakespeare. To make things worse, their imaginative artists got to work and illustrated the crime scene. It went on almost for a week after the child passed away in hospital, succumbing to the injuries.  Then they lost interest as the election news started kicking in.

I kept wondering, how long these media would crucify the child? What was their motivation to spin stories around this unfortunate incident? Wasn’t it sufficient that they informed the public about this horrifying incident and the fact that the criminal was arrested? Why they needed to sensationalize it? Why they needed to invade the privacy of the child, his mother, his family members, his teachers, classmates and his doctor?

One such case I clearly remember being sensationalized in a similar manner is the Arushi murder case. As soon as the media came to know about the incident, they started spinning out stories about the possible murderers. There were theories formulated, character of the parents was questioned and even the child was treated crassly. The media did a complete trial and they passed verdicts. Arushi case still remains unsolved, but the media had passed their verdicts – solid and lucid.

As the owner of a travel web-portal, I can understand the online media’s predicament. The main revenue of any website is from the advertisements they display on the site. However, the advertisements are not just enough. Someone needs to view them (called impressions), even better click them (measured by Click through Rate – CTR). The cyber world is overflowing with tid-bits of juicy content. It is a herculean task to attract a reader to a particular website.  To achieve a great CTR and hence to make good revenue, the readers needs to be catered with eye-catchy, highly sensational content. They might need to be catered with news that appeals to their hearts. Going viral is the best thing that can happen to a website. However, in an urge to make money, in an urge to go viral, how insensitive the media could become? Even if it is against the rules, some portals had gone so far as to publishing the photo of the child with his mother! How far the media should be allowed to sniff around the lives of these unfortunate people?

The second group of people who killed the boy over and over again was the social media mourners. It was natural to feel devastated and angry over the incident. It was a gesture of sympathy to write a note of condolence. However, some people went much beyond that. I remember seeing one Facebook post, that depicts an imaginary conversation that the child’s mother having with God. She pleaded God to kill her sons, so that she can seek sensual pleasure with her ‘friend’. There was an animation created in which the deceased child talking to his father, repeating the gory things that he had been through, then telling him that it was good that he passed away. People really poured out their imagination portray the suffering of the child and to judge the mother. There was another video, where they found the notebook of the child. They turned the pages with sad background music. They tried to connect the words from his dictation to his agony. What nonsense!

The judgments those were passed on the mother was so insensitive and abhorrent. Nobody knows the truth of the situation until and unless the police are able to uncover all the details (and if it ever gets public). What was the great need of recounting the incident over and over again? What was the need of doing character assassination of the mother?  What was the need of stamping her as a sex-maniac?

I call these kinds of people on Facebook as opinion junkies. Whenever a sad incident happens (like this murder or the Kathua and Unnao rape cases) the opinion junkies strikes. They go on and on about the unfortunate situation, the lack of safety, the wretched condition of our country. Some call them the key board warriors. However, I think they don’t deserve the title ‘keyboard warriors’ because there are people out there who really make a difference through the keyboard. However, the opinion junkies post something and then forget about it. Their anger boils over in their posts; however they are satisfied with the likes and share they get. However, they never think about, who the opinions are helping. In this unfortunate case of the child, the whole world had already known about the incident hours within it happened. What was the need of creating dramatic posts over the incident? I don’t know what change they wanted to make by posting insensitive remarks.

 The opinion junkies put no or little thought about what they are about to post on social media. They do zero follow up. How many people who lamented about the Delhi rape case know the current situation of the case? Opinion junkies just post and forget. Their sympathy towards the victim is like the throw-away paper cups. In an effort to make a moving post, they might even pass insensitive judgments.

If all the people who pour their heart out on the social media  did anything to help the victims, if they made sure that the criminals are not escaped through the wide tooth comb of judicial system, if they followed up the case tightly, then their act has some merit.  Everyone, including myself, need to look into ourselves and should be able to ask, “ is this post really necessary”? Am I going to show integrity to my own words? Else, we are doing a pathetic, insensitive attempt to get attention, gain those two minutes of fame and a viral insensitivity.

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