Why social media posts are triggering riots in India

It is time that the government steps in and ensures online networking platforms actively help trace and delete malicious content.

 |  3-minute read |   10-07-2017
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No, not exactly. Most people on social media use it positively. It has changed the way we look at news dissemination. The world has become more connected and aware.

However, the newsroom sees a lot of content on social media platforms that incites hate and terror.

Global terror groups like ISIS and al Qaeda use social networking websites to radicalise and recruit. Terror affiliates coordinate via such platforms mainly because it helps them avoid detection.

Close to home, in India, there have been numerous occasions when fake videos and posts on social media have helped fan unrest, including communal strife. The latest case in point is the Basirhat incident where a Facebook post sparked troubles. At least one video was in circulation just before the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 — footage that was two years old and shot somewhere in a tribal area of Pakistan.

Similarly, a video showing a man being hacked to death, supposedly somewhere in Nawada was in reality a video from Bangladesh. In a more recent case, at least a couple of videos showing people celebrating Pakistan's Champions Trophy victory in India are fake — one is a video from the neighbouring country and another an old one from Gujarat.

Yet another video showing a girl being beaten and burnt to death, supposedly somewhere in a Southern Indian state, is actually an old one from Guatemala. It is a well-known fact that cow vigilantes operate almost exclusively through WhatsApp — simply because once a post has been seeded it is impossible to trace the source because of the encryption involved.

riots-m_070917113009.jpgAt least one video was in circulation just before the Muzaffarnagar riots in 2013 — footage that was two years old and shot somewhere in a tribal area of Pakistan. Photo: PTI

Such posts project a negative image of a community or an individual. These circulations have coincided with burning political issues of the day. The intent behind such activities is clear. And the service provider cannot absolve itself of moral responsibilities regarding the contents of such footage and their ramifications on the social fibre of a country.

It is time that the government steps in and ensures that social media platforms actively help trace and delete such malicious content.

Recently, the German Parliament voted in favour of a law that levies fines of up to €50 million on popular web platforms such as Facebook and YouTube if they fail to remove hateful posts in a time-bound manner. The law comes into effect in October and affects websites with more than two million users in a country. It requires social media platforms to trace and delete posts containing abusive material within 24 hours to avoid being penalised.

UK prime minister Theresa May has suggested introducing similar measures in her country. Even the Conservative party manifesto said internet firms could face a levy that would go towards funding efforts to counter crime online. In fact, Facebook has introduced a tool in Germany that lets users flag suspicious content, and it will be monitored by a team of 700 employees in Berlin. The idea of sharing what Germany did was just a pointer to the fact that if there is enough political will and resolve, governments can step in and push through legislations to counter newer threats to the harmony and integrity of the country.

Why do we need to look at the legislation side of such issues? Firstly, because our existing cyber laws do not yet have enough provisions to deal with new and emerging threats. Secondly, because India is seeing a smartphone boom and almost everybody is hooked onto the social media.

And the alarming fact is that social media is being used to spread hate, divisive agenda and incite social unrest. The Valley has seen people taking to social media to spread rumours that help fuel violence. Obviously, this is a leaf taken out of the operating styles of global terror organisations.

Whenever security forces corner a terrorist or hundreds come out to pelt stones on security forces to facilitate their escape a large part of the mobilisation happens via social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and even Twitter.

In the current scenario it is high time the legislators step in ensure the integrity of the land is maintained.

Also read: Mob violence in Bengal over FB post can’t be equated with organised riots by RSS-Hindutva


Arindam De Arindam De @arindamde01

The writer is journalist working with India Today.

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