Last week, the inhabitants of IndiaÔÇÖs northeast region received rumors of a Muslim attack via Mobile Technology (SMS messages) and social media. With convincing photos add in to add credibility tens of thousands of people fled the urban areas. The Indian GovernmentÔÇÖs response was to impose a 5 message limit on bulk text messaging and they may even crack down on Twitter if they donÔÇÖt remove the questionable content. The questions to ask are how did this happen and could it happen to us?
How did this happen?
For this level of effectiveness, there needed to be a group of people who are marginalizes and the subject of the hoax had to be something that people were already fearful of. There were attacks in Assam on over 400,000 Bengali Muslims and many of the inhabitants of the Indian region emigrated from Assam. While it was unlikely that the attacks would reach that far no one wanted to take a chance. This attack used mobile technology as a medium to reach the masses with a viral and terrifying message.
It is rumored that the hoax started in Pakistan after being tracked to the location by Facebook and YouTube. If Muslims indeed initiated this act, chances are it backfired on them as the Northeaster Indians are getting much sympathy and now that their situation is known to many, it will only grow.
Could it happen here?
The hoax that took place in India had very specific circumstances that enable the masterminds to abuse the situation. With the right circumstances, something similar is possible, but chances are not on this scale. It would be possible to affect a company or association, but it is unlikely.
A good example of this kind of thing that did work was when a Yes Men member was able to appear on the BBC World claiming to be speaking for Dow Chemical and claimed that Dow would be dissolving Union Carbide. This was untrue and the real Dow quickly dispelled the false data so it never reached the virility that the SMS attack did.
Another example would be the call for ObamaÔÇÖs birth certificate. The rally was made with some pre-existing distrust of the man and even today after the release of the documents there are people who do not believe that it was real.
What I Think
This attack has created some fear in citizens all over despite the implausibility of a repeat attack any time soon. It did exactly what the masterminds intended. An attack using Mobile technology and social media is brilliant, but it will not work everywhere every time. If it did, the quit Facebook day protests would be much more affective. The problem here is that attempting this kind of attack costs virtually nothing, so chances are people will be trying it.
I think that it is disturbing how well the SMS attack worked in India and, while many can see through the hoax, the potential panic it can cause. ┬áPreventing a mobile technology and social media based ÔÇ£prankÔÇØ will prove extremely difficult and the fact is, doing it would be rather easy comparatively. Much like the hacker/anti-hacker battle, it is cheaper, easier, and faster to be on the giving end of the show off.
I hope that we donÔÇÖt start seeing attempts at this from the masses as there were some casualties during the panic. At least in the states, that will result in some serious punishment.
The SMS hoax in India has proven to be a thing of chance and proper setup, but in the end it is proving to be helpful in battling the issues it represents. The Northeastern Indians that were affected have the sympathy of many and will get much support. These kinds of SMS and social media attacks are easy, simple, and, to the mastermind, even amusing. Whether the affect was intentional or not, these kinds of things will be attempted by people around the world that likely just want to see people panic, not expecting there to be lives lost.