A legitimate space for free speech or a dangerous trend bordering on anti-national provocation? It’s hard to define the nature of the hate communities that have mushroomed on social networking websites like Orkut and Facebook. Some groups, with titles like ‘I hate Ekta Kapoor’ and ‘I hate Himesh Reshammiya’ are relatively innocuous.
But there are other, more disturbing communities — like the ‘I hate Indira Gandhi’ community and the ‘I hate Mahatma Gandhi’ group.
Orkut currently has 12 anti-Gandhi groups, with the largest counting about 1,880 members. The discussions at these anti-Bapu groups encompass anything from demands to rewrite history to calls for his picture to be taken off the currency notes. And its members are unafraid of the inevitable backlash. Says Raman Khanna, 18, owner of the ‘Against Gandhi Thinking’ group and a 12th grade student from Chandigarh, “Everyone has the right to express themselves. I have been threatened several times, but I don’t take it seriously.”
On the other side of the debate, Tushar Gandhi, the Mahatma’s grandson, is equally unfazed. “Yes, I’ve heard about these hate communities against Bapu. Initially I used to get angry, but now I realise that their postings are born of prejudice and ignorance,” he explains.
The 2,760-member strong ‘I hate Indira Gandhi’ group on Orkut treads on equally dangerous ground. The forum focuses on the Sikh freedom movement of the early 1980s and atrocities against Sikhs, with one of the topics talking about how Independence Day marks a victory for India but is a day of suffering for the Sikhs.
Jassimrat Kaur, 22, a third year BSc student from Mumbai, admits to being an active member of this community. However, she clarifies that she is not against Indira Gandhi personally but is making a statement against Operation Blue Star of 1984, in which the Golden Temple at Amritsar was stormed and — Sikhs died. “What Indira Gandhi did was completely wrong. She had no right to kill innocent people who were present at the temple,” she says. Kaur adds that she aims to influence the opinions of other Orkutians.
Orkut’s parent company Google insists that it takes the matter very seriously. “We don’t proactively monitor content since we rely on our users to notify us of violations of Orkut policies. Once we learn about violations, we act quickly to remove inappropriate content,” says Vinay Goel, head of products, Google India.
Google has also introduced a priority reporting tool, which makes it easier for the police to contact them when there is any problem about content on a specific website. So far, the cyber cell has taken action on the Shiv Sena’s complaint about a community giving vent to its anger against Bal Thackeray.
Sub-inspector Chauhan, a cyber cell official, says: “It is difficult to differentiate between what is legal and illegal in this area. If we get a complaint, we contact Google and send them a mail. We only take action if the problem goes out of hand, or if someone raises a huge hue and cry about it. There is no fixed punishment.”
Till such time regulation is introduced, such communities will continue their baiting. Not everyone is complaining. Ekta Kapoor, the queen of soaps, says: “I have heard a lot about these hate communities,” she says, “But I’m very happy about it — and why not? It just shows how happening I am!”