We are living in a digital era which is going to be perfectly digital sooner when technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) & Augmented Reality would be in the access of a common man. Our homes are getting equipped with intelligent virtual assistants, and very soon there will be a plethora of smart appliances that can be controlled with just voice commands or through mobile applications. Such advancements have changed the way of our living, thinking and behaving. While we are at our homes, we are exposed to the world through the internet. This being the case, we have to be careful in the same manner as we should be when we go out physically.

To me the digital era we are living in has changed what civic sense used to be, in fact has broadened the definition of it. Caring about your surroundings for example roads, streets, cleanliness and following the laws while driving, walking and crossing the roads definitely comes under the definition of civic sense. What supplementary came in the ambit of civic sense is your behaviour when you are virtually interacting with your fellow countrymen. Nowadays, when we are practicing social distancing because of COVID-19, the interaction and the influx of dissemination of information is happening mostly through social media. But unfortunately the element of civic responsibility is seen missing when people disseminate information through social media. 

Whenever there comes any calamity or any unusual situation, we suffer more from the misinformation rather than the calamity because miss information results in making people panic more. After the COVID-19 stepped into Pakistan, we saw many among us beside creating the panic by telling for e.g. the world is going to be finished and the end of times has arrived or sharing the localized or ‘Desi’ cure methods of the virus without knowing the authenticity and credibility of the content circulated. Here, what matters for them is the race that who shares first and how much. The least interest of our society as what can be the consequences of the shared information can sometimes prove fatal for us. Circulating false information to manipulate people’s mind is sometimes used to divert their mind but to the mind diversion is sometimes failed and leads people to panic. The panic and haphazardness is what causes situations to get worse and uncontrollable. 

A society like Pakistan where because of the abysmal socio-economic conditions many people including the young ones were already under deep mental stress. Closure of many businesses because of the pandemic has deepened their stress level and finally the social media created panic is further escalating the situation. Many mental health experts are deeply concerned about the impact that social media is creating in such already stressful times. Some believe that the constant distraction of social media contributes to shortened attention spans. In addition, many people who are regular users of social media report high levels of stress.

Ever since we have experienced life, we always have witnessed life with so many ups and downs. The calamities/catastrophes have been a part of our life and have been promised by our God to remind the mankind about His existence. The more we go through these calamities, the more we realize the presence of our God. But that does not unfortunately overcome the panic and the chaos that comes along those calamities. The biggest lesson we should learn from such calamities is the sense of responsibility, believe me lying, deceiving and spreading misinformation virtually is equally punishable sin as it is for someone who does it the other way. 

The situation gets worse when your educated class and even people from academia do the same. Yes, it is a common practice that our WhatsApp, inbox, twitter and facebook walls are bombarded with such knowledge which is actually not a knowledge but a devastation that leads many immature minds think in a different and pessimist way.    

The chaos and haphazardness which comes with the calamity has many repercussions. The fear of losing an individual is nothing but traumatic. It terrorizes an individual to even think of losing someone from his/her family. Apart from that, the feeling or fear of  losing someone from any incident is unable to explain. The most prominent of the reasons of the spreading of terror in the people because of these calamities is the miss-information that plays a huge role in distorting the facts and portraying something else to people. 

Where calamities and unusual situation require people to perform according to instructions, it requires people to be calm too. To stay calm and to follow instructions is only possible when we are not only aware of the situation but we are literate. Literacy is the biggest factor to cope up with any of the catastrophe. If a nation is literate, they will follow what they are instructed. Whereas, on the contrary, the illiterate ratio of individuals will come up with actions which will not act in accordance with the directions by the government. Tackling with situations which are not ordinary requires patience and resilience. It needs us to act wisely and uniformly. 

One of the cons in an illiterate society is that the individuals prioritize actions which are in their best of interests while neglecting actions which provide us benefit as a whole. People in the times of casualties disseminate information which is listened by some and then quoted again and again. The circle runs in such a way that chaos is generated within people. The miss interpreted statements and sometimes actions create terror. 

The niche in the era of calamity is the right information dissemination and correct indicators/steps which should be taken in order to accomplish the best possible solutions. In order to attain this, we should guide the society about the measures we should take. The society’s cooperation and willingness to follow the leader counts as well. If the leader is obeyed/followed properly, we can attain success in defeating the calamity.

–The writer is a journalist, Global Shaper at World Economic Forum and policy expert. He tweets @AsimNawazAbbasi