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Social media and its effects during Dhaka’s darkest hour

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Fariha Marjia
Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Social Media can be a very frightening platform. And if used to incite terror, the repercussions can be catastrophic. A series of events have shown how certain militant groups have migrated to social media and used this platform to declare attacks.There have been many known criminally active terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, Jihad, Taliban, ISIL, ISIS, Hamas, Al-Shabaab and a few others.

Now, over a span of few years it seems that these terrorist’s groups have reaped the advantages of social media and are now using it with its full extent for their own gains. 

ISIS continues to incite terror amongst the people. During the holy month of Ramadan, a group of terrorists chose to attack the local bakery Holey Artisan, located within the quiet diplomatic zone of Gulshan, Dhaka, on Friday, July 1. That night, Dhaka had been shaken to its roots. Despite the government denying any existence of ISIS in Bangladesh, the group took to its Twitter account to publish 5 pictures of gunmen and claimed responsibility for the shooting and massacre at Holey Artisan. Witnesses say the gunmen targeted mainly the non-Bangladeshis or those who could not recite from the holy Quran. Nine Italians, seven Japanese, one US citizen and an Indian also died. Bangladesh Army Brig Gen Naim Asraf Chowdhury said the victims had been "brutally" attacked with sharp weapons.

Most of the Italian nationals worked with the garments industry and the Japanese were working for the development of Bangladesh, namely for the incorporation of the Metro-Rail. Witnesses testified that they shouted "Allahu Akbar", meaning "God is great" when they struck blow after blow to the victims. Reports say there were 6 gunmen whereas there have only been five claimed by the ISIS. What is worse is that the gunmen were identified through their own social media profiles, and turned out to have lived just as normal lives as their victims. After a few days, another tweet was made from another account claiming to attack the largest shopping mall in Bangladesh, Jamuna Future Park. Luckily, it turned out to be a false threat.

Since that dreadful day, people have been on their guards. What if my next-door neighbor, whom I lent my blender to, turns out to be one of them? Or my little sister’s best friend with whom she walks home every day? Or the man I buy my groceries from? What if my big brother has an ISIS recruit for a roommate? Nothing feels safe anymore. It is like the walls are closing in on all of us. I guess it is human nature to fully notice the threat of something like this once it happens right on your doorstep. 

Naushad Qader, a student of BRAC University, says that he was so shaken by the incident that he absolutely stopped going to any public space where there was a chance of foreigners being present. Qader mentioned that he made it a point to avoid any Japanese or Korean restaurants in the city, which he used to frequent, since the terrorists allegedly decided to attack the Holey Artisan bakery for the very reason that it used to be patronized by foreigners. This is the mindset of many people in the city nowadays, fearing foreign company at any cost. Many restaurants have faced low sales, even during the season of Eid. The reason being fear. Fear amongst the people of terror attacks in restaurants, café’s, shopping malls, etc. The viral nature of videos posted by members of ISIS has led to even more fear among the youth. The city’s law enforcing authorities claim that they get hundreds of threats on a daily basis, but do not pay much attention to them since their authenticity cannot be confirmed. Then why is it that whenever anything is posted on social media, people tend to blindly believe it to be true?

Adeeba Asri, another student of BRAC University, mentions how she thinks everyone around her could be a terrorist. The reason for this, she adds, is simply because the faces of the terrorists that attacked the Holey Artisan bakery were so relatable. “When you look at pictures of the terrorists, you feel like you know them. They look like the people we mix with on a daily basis”, Asri further adds. This is something new in Bangladesh. All these years’ people had a typical image of what a terrorist may look like. But after the Holey Artisan bakery attacks, that typecasting has come to an end. Terrorists now also come with a good education, modern social behaviors and affluent families. 

Alisha Hussein, a student of the University of Warwick, who has been in Dhaka for 2 months on vacation, has almost fallen into depression after the incident. She has not left her house since the event occurred on July 1. Her family has rescheduled her flight back to the United Kingdom to be a couple of weeks earlier. Alisha has been traumatized by the event and cannot erase the pictures of the dead victims that were floating around social media right after the attacks. Those explicit images have affected many people, and those sharing them, in anticipation of likes and comments, should have given it a second thought.

As terrorist organizations continue to embrace social media, free-speech activists will likely become more aggressive in their calls for more transparent policies regarding account deletions. With governments keen to cut them off, the social-media platforms will have to make the hard decisions of where to draw the line.

So how is the media to be blamed for the wide spread acknowledgement of these terrorist groups? The excessive sharing and expressing opinions only help to create more buzz which were the terrorists’ target to begin with. Why is it that, within the passing hour, a mass surge of identical profile pictures was put up with hash-tags for praying? Where is the time for grief? It is all about the likes and the hits nowadays. Is social media truly making us vain and blind towards what is real and insensitive to such a degree what we see every tragedy as an opportunity to create another trend or media frenzy. Do we really see the world or do we only see what posts are shown by these social media sites and jump into conclusions, not stopping to think of its credibility not the impact it will have on the society?

Researchers have concluded that over 80 percent people rely on the internet alone to find out about the world. Although the world wide web was designed to share information, rather what is scary is how much misinformation is being circulated. Are these terrorist groups alone to be blamed, or have we played, however little, part in handing them the platform they are on now? Giving them that space to grow and breed and contaminate the rest of the world while we dwell on whether we want protection by compromising and limiting certain freedom, or do we wish to live in fear while being able to tweet, post and share about it?

All that remains to be said is that maybe we should turn off our phones and our computers and head outside into the actual world we inhabit, however unsafe it might feel. We should go and be with the ones we love, even if, as social media so often shows, we don’t always like them. 

July 27, 2016
About Author

A Law major, Fariha loves skimming through libraries and smelling old books. Her interest for movies and music makes her free-write contents and cover reviews at Intellect.

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