Volunteers will play the role of digital vigilantes to check social media hate posts designed to disrupt peace in Uttar Pradesh, a communally-sensitive state that has witnessed clashes between religious groups over inflammatory online material in the past.
The “digital volunteers”, to be appointed by the state police, will check for objectionable posts on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Google Plus and other social networking sites of the kind, and make sure people do not get carried away by such provocations.
“Contradicting” hate posts with facts from reports in newspapers, TV and Internet news portals, they will work alongside special police officers and peace committee members to defuse communal flare-ups. Action will be taken against those posting hate messages.
“Internet-savvy people who are active on social networking sites will be appointed as digital volunteers. A policeman using the Internet will also be able to become a volunteer,” inspector general of police (law and order) A Satish Ganesh said. He said policemen would also be trained to counter hate posts.
The idea was floated to pre-empt a repeat of the communal violence triggered by a hate post in Bareilly, Firozabad and Moradabad districts recently. A month ago, a similar post on WhatsApp sparked tension in Saharanpur. Likewise, messages on the Dadri incident where a Muslim man was lynched on suspicion of cow slaughter led to anxiety in the Gautam Buddh Nagar district.
Other than sensitive posts, the volunteers will look for fundamentalist propaganda pushed by the Islamic State terror group and other jihadi organisations.
The home ministry had recently directed the state government to block radical material posted by the Islamic State on social networking sites.
Police have set up two “laboratories” — Social Media Command and Research Center at the DIG office in Meerut and the STF office in Lucknow — to handle such cases. These measures have been taken because many people, even those in rural areas, possess Internet connections and are active on the social media. A police officer said they were aware that “disruptive elements” have been trying to create communal tension by taking advantage of the Internet’s reach and impact.
The police technical wing has set up a WhatsApp Surveillance cell (9454401002), through which people can inform authorities about provocative posts whenever they come across one.