Plastic rice: govt right in rejecting rumours

The use of social media can be a boon as well as a bane. Widespread availability of smartphones has meant that almost everyone is on one social media platform or the other and any sort of information spreads with lightning speed. It has almost become fashionable or even a craze to ‘share’ or ‘forward’ texts or visuals with friends, relatives or acquaintances. But, when unverified or unsubstantiated ‘toxic’ information or videos are circulated, it could have harmful effect, without even the sender realising the consequences of his action. One such purported video trending in social media has created needless confusion and panic over the alleged sale of rice, sugar, ragi or eggs mixed with plastic grain in the market in Karnataka.

The video showing a ‘Chinese-looking man’ feeding sheets of plastic to a machine, which produces plastic grains, has led to the spreading of rumours. Some mainline media too, unfortunately, have added grist to the rumour mill by claiming that there were stray reports of people actually having bought such adulterated items in the market. When the issue was raised in both the Houses of the Karnataka Legislature, the state government did well to firmly reject the rumours and appeal to the people not to get carried away by them. The government maintained that following reports of food items mix-ed with plastic being sold in the market, 208 samples of sugar, 180 samples of rice, eight eggs and 12 samples of ragi from across the state had been sent to laboratories for testing, and “no traces of plastic were found in any of the samples.” The government trashed as baseless some reports suggesting that ‘plastic rice’ was being supplied through the public distribution system. The minister concerned also made a relevant point as to why anyone would want to add plastic to rice when one kilogram of plastic grain would cost Rs 200 while the rice was being sold at Rs 40 to Rs 50 per kg.

Considering the power and reach of the social media, there is a demand being made worldwide for introducing an effective filtering process so that the medium acquires a level of responsibility and accountability. But, it could be argued that it would be virtually impossible to monitor the flow of billions of data and any attempt to regulate even a fraction of it would defeat the very idea of free flow of information in real time. Perhaps, it would help if every ‘forward’ automatically goes with a tagline, ‘As received. Not verified.’ It would give a sense of responsibility to both the sender and the receiver.

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