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HT Exclusive: Odisha police propose lab to monitor social media

Communal violence erupted in a Odisha town over an inflammatory post on Facebook earlier in April which led to imposition of curfew in the town for over a month, the longest in the state so far.

india Updated: Jul 10, 2017 12:24 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
Odisha police,Facebook post,Social media
Bhadrak town in Odisha witnessed communal violence in April after derogatory comments were posted on a Facebook page.(REUTERS)

Caught napping over Bhadrak riots in April and communal violence in Rourkela last year over inflammatory remarks on social media, Odisha police are looking at creating a “social media lab” to gather intelligence, according to official documents.

Odisha director general of police KB Singh declined to confirm his department’s plan for such a laboratory (wing). “No such lab is in the offing,” he said. However, copies of official documents with HT show there is a proposal for such a lab on the lines of those in “Maharashtra and (West) Bengal” to track public views and analyse sentiments on various social media platforms.

“The advanced social media monitoring tools would help in gauging and analysing the public media and sentiments, draw up-predictive analysis of projected events and provide indicators to police regarding the size and seriousness of the public emotions,” states the Odisha police concept note for the lab.

“It would provide pre-actionable intelligence regarding rise in digital chatter and participation of general people or community groups in social media websites. The idea of the project is to raise red flag over any inflammatory posting which may have a bearing on the law and order situation,” the note adds.

Sources said the lab would work round the clock in the state police headquarters at Cuttack and would be headed by a deputy superintendent of police with 60 police and software personnel under him.

Social media networks in India are growing exponentially at an annual rate of 50 per cent. More than 12 crore of the 25 crore internet users are hooked to sites such as Facebook. Twitter, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Instagram and Linkedin.

Eye on mischief-mongers

In April, communal violence lasted for days in Bhadrak town, about 125 km northeast of state capital Bhubaneswar, over an inflammatory comment by a Muslim youth on a Facebook post. About 450 institutions, including business establishments, godowns and houses, were damaged in arson and property worth more than Rs 9 crore was destroyed.

The communal violence led to imposition of curfew in the town for over a month, the longest in the state so far. Though police arrested nearly 200 people over their role in the violence, they came in for criticism for failing to prevent the riots despite telltale signs of the anger building up on social media.

Police also had to deal with communal tension in coastal town of Kendrapara in April after an offensive video on Facebook poked fun at prayers of a minority community.

In July 2016, the steel city of Rourkela saw minor communal violence during Rath Yatra when a boy posted an objectionable comment on a minority community in a WhatsApp group.

Having faced severe criticism over communal violence in Kandhamal in 2008, chief minister Naveen Patnaik is wary of any religious violence that may give a leg-up to opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). According to sources, his Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government’s message to the police is do not get caught off guard.

First Published: Jul 02, 2017 17:32 IST