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HindustanTimes Mon,24 Nov 2014

A dangerous trend: social media adds fire to Muzaffarnagar clashes

Zia Haq , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 09, 2013
First Published: 18:20 IST(9/9/2013) | Last Updated: 13:49 IST(3/12/2013)

As access to the Internet grows, especially in small Indian towns and cities, social media has revealed a darker side as a hatred-mongering tool capable of setting off serious violence.

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Families, who migrated from Soram Goela village due to the rioting, arriving at Budhana under security of police and paramilitary forces. (Chahat/ HT Photo)

Malicious content, such as fake YouTube videos and morphed photographs, are usually spread rapidly to trigger rioting.

In UP’s Muzzafarnagar, a video clip purportedly showing a Muslim mob lynching two boys, which police now suspect is from neighboring Pakistan or Afghanistan, was used to stir unease, deepening hatred between Muslims and Hindus.

  •  Political blame game escalates over UP violence, Akhilesh alleges conspiracy

A series of rioting in western UP district has left at least 41 dead. The circulation of the video had led to violence spreading to new areas. The fake video that escalated clashes portends a new trend in India’s discordant politics.

“From word of mouth, communal polarization, especially by Hindutva organisations, is now moving online. This is a dangerous trend since the Internet is very potent,” said Prof Badri Narayan of the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.

Mehrana, a 6-year-old girl injured in communal clashes, gets treatment at a district hospital in Muzaffarnagar. (AP Photo)

Research shows social media sites, including sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, are more persuasive than television ads. Nearly 100 million Indians use the Internet each day, more than Germany’s population. Of this, 40 million have assured broadband, the ones who mostly subscribe to social-media accounts.

The country also has about 87 million mobile-Internet users, according to Internet and Mobile Association of India.

  •  Muzaffarnagar riots toll rises to 31; Centre asks for situation report every 12 hours
 
UP’s police have blocked the video, invoking sections under 420 (forgery), 153-A (promoting enmity on religious grounds) and 120-B (conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, along with section 66 of the Information Technology Act.
 
Section 66, however, is the heart of a free-speech debate. Activists say section 66 has been used at the drop of a hat.

Last November, two Mumbai girls faced arrests for questioning the city’s shutdown for Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray’s funeral. The arrests were declared illegal after being roundly criticised, including by the Supreme Court.

  •  SC declines to take take note of Muzaffarnagar riots

A policeman holds recovered arms during a door-to-door search operation in Muzaffarnagar. (AP Photo)

“In this case, the government has a legitimate reason to censor speech. However, this requires the authorities to very focused and action should be targeted, rather than sweeping,” said Sunil Abraham of the Bangalore-based The Centre for Internet and Society.
 
The government’s action, Abraham said, tended to be broad-based. He said in such situations, the government could use public-service messaging to present the alternate view.

  •  UP appoints inquiry commission to probe violence

  •  Congress brushes aside demands for clamping Prez rule in UP

“Legal provisions could be made whereby Twitter users from India, for example, (compulsorily) see the public service message by default when they log in,” Abraham said.


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