The misuse of social media to spread objectionable content and hatred among communities on Monday came under attack from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a number of chief ministers who demanded some mechanism to check its uncontrolled use.
Participating in the day-long National Integration Council meeting, being held against the backdrop of recent communal riots in Muzaffarnagar, they demanded an oversight mechanism to prevent and control the social media from running riot in such situations.
The meeting, chaired by the Prime Minister, expressed serious concern over growing incidents of communal violence and the need for parties to stop exploiting them for political gains, especially with elections round the corner.
Union ministers, Leaders of the Opposition in Parliament, chief ministers, leaders of national and regional political parties, eminent people from media, business and public life attended the meeting of the 148-member body.
Summing up their mood, the Prime Minister said the recent communal violence in some cases have brought to notice circulation of fake videos aimed at inciting the feeling of hatred in one community towards the other.
He said before this, in 2012, people have fanned hatred against the people of the Northeast which resulted in their mass exodus.
"Social media helps youngsters to get new information and new thought. It should be used in ensuring brotherhood and communal harmony.
"It is necessary to maintain independence of giving opinion and views by people in social media. But at the same time, it is also important that we donot let miscreants and troublemakers to misuse social media. I feel today's meeting will look into the issue of misuse of social media and deliberate on it," he said.
The Prime Minister asked parties to refrain from taking advantage out of communal strife and said states should crackdown on elements fanning such violence irrespective of their political affiliations or influence.
Underlining that the onus for preventing communal violence lies with the states, he said effective steps should be taken by the administration to ensure that small issues don't snowball into a big controversy.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who had experienced the misuse of Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) in which an attack on two youth in Pakistan a couple of years ago was circulated during the Muzaffarnagar riots, lamented that there was no mechanism to check objectionable content being transmitted through social media.
"It is necessary that Internet and mobile service providers have the capacity to restrict transmission of SMS, MMS and emails through these mediums," he said.
These companies should have a technology to trace origin of such objectionable contents. "If they do not have such capacity then they must develop them. I request Government to take immediate step in this regard," Yadav said.
Expressing concerns at the misuse of social media for inciting communal violence, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said such unscrupulous elements need to be tackled "with a firm hand" so that people do not fall a prey to their hate propaganda.
"It has been seen that a few sections of the media and some unscrupulous users of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter often use them to spread rumours, circulate fake videos, messages and images in a bid to hurt the sentiments of the religious communities, which have the tendency to arouse the passions, vitiate the peaceful atmosphere and lead to communal unrest," he said.
Omar suggested customised software for keeping a tab on the social networking sites spreading hatred on the Internet can also be envisaged.
The chief minister said social networking sites should be encouraged to devise greater self regulation lest they contribute to large scale law and order disturbances.
However, suitable amendments shall have to be made in the existing laws so that we are in a position to effectively deal with any conspiracy to breach the spirit of brotherhood, Omar said.
Similar apprehensions were voiced by chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Haryana and north eastern states. CPM leader Prakash Karat demanded changes in the Information Technology Act to act against those spreading inflammatory and communal propaganda in social media.
Haryana chief minister Bhupender Singh Hooda asked the centre to take immediate steps to control social networking sites which are used for disturbing communal harmony.
Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik said there was an urgent need for an oversight mechanism to prevent and control such media in critical situations.
Voicing concerns over social media inciting tension in society, Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi said that development of electronic media and information and networking technologies has turned out to be a double-edged sword.
He said there was a need to curb the vested interest of the trouble mongers by more effectively regulating the use of social networking technology, radio, TV and other such means of communication.
In his speech, the Prime Minister said state governments should lose no time to control communal violence sternly. The local administration should prevent a small issue from snowballing into a huge controversy and arrest those responsible for spreading it, he said.
"The state should use all means at its disposal to punish those guilty for fanning communal violence and ensure a speedy crackdown on such elements irrespective of their political affiliations or influence," the Prime Minister said.
"I appeal to parties and media that they should refrain from giving any political colour or taking any political mileage from such incidents," Singh said.
The Prime Minister said the meeting assumes significance as it was being held in the aftermath of communal clashes in Muzaffarnagar which claimed nearly 50 lives and damaged property worth lakhs of crores of rupees.
He said the country had witnessed communal clashes recently in Kishtwar area of Jammu and Kashmir, Nawada area of Bihar, Hyderabad and most importantly Uttar Pradesh which has seen an increase in these incidents in the past few months.
"At times, the anti-national forces succeed in creating a communal divide between various sections of people and such forces are a big challenge for the democracy of this country," the Prime Minister said and called for effective handling of such forces with an iron hand.
Without naming BJP, Akhilesh Yadav accused some political parties of trying to raise communal tension over some incidents that resulted in the Muzaffarnagar violence.
He said the demolition of Babri masjid some years ago was a black chapter in the country's history and was meant to harm communal harmony.
"At present, it seems that some of the main political parties are trying to dangerously harm the communal harmony of the state in view of 2014 general elections. Efforts are on (by them) to polarise people of the state," Yadav said.