Sunday, August 17, 2014

Misusing social media to spread communalism in the society: Messages on WhatsApp, Facebook inflaming passions, causing riots

If the society is increasingly getting communalised and people belonging to different communities are turning into religious bigots, it should be a cause of alarm.

Across India, 'objectionable' posts on Facebook or circulation of messages on WhatsApp are leading to communal tension and riots.

In small towns, people come out on streets and mob resort to violence after seeing a post. We can no longer say that it is a transition phase for society and that people will get over it.

First, it was Facebook, which was being misused to spread false messages and propaganda. Now, it is Whatsapp that is being flooded with communal messages.

It seems that there are factories to manufacture hate-filled messages, on a regular basis. In fact, messages that are factually incorrect are floated, purposely, part of a conspiracy to turn Hindus and Muslims against each other.

Hate-mongering, morphed images

For example, a mischief maker just takes any photo, puts a few words along with it, using PhotoShop or Paintshop, and uploads it. Soon, the like-minded start liking or sharing it, as if it is a certified intellectual's quote.

Even educated persons who are supposed to be discernible and know the truth, are taken in, and believe it as truth. By consistently posting these messages, the aim is to paint the other group as absolute villain and enemy.

A photo of a person being lynched in neighbouring country is passed off as a scene from a particular place in India, and a particular group is blamed. These images go viral and even if one or two persons see the falsehood, the voices don't matter much.

The impact, reach of WhatsApp

Both fundamentalist Hindus and Muslims are involved in this act. Also, many ordinary people, without verifying or bothering to check the information, believe these messages and forward them. Sharing in WhatsApp, takes the messages to even more people.

The hate in many of these messages is chilling. No longer a person needs newspaper or TV channel to spread his message. He can simply write a few lines and in photo form if it is posted, many seem believe the message. Many might not believe these messages.

Daily propaganda turning people fanatic

However, when you see such messages on a daily basis, your degree of suspicion towards other group increased. So those who were liberal turn into fundamentalist, the slight communal into communal and the communal become ultra-communal, seeing the propaganda day in and day out.

Education should bring enlightenment but sadly a large number of people are getting affected by false propaganda on the social networking websites. While social media has its benefits and guarding freedom of expression is important, it is also imperative that those injecting hate in society, should be dealt with sternly.

How many around to spread message of communal harmony?

The reason is that messages on communal harmony aren't spread. There are no organisations flush with funds to do it with a missionary zeal. But those who are overcome by hate or have an agenda, act with a passion. Hence, communal messages flood the virtual world.

Till a few years ago, it was a small section that used Twitter. Facebook was used more often. However, with smartphones being used to check social media, the situation has turned extremely serious. Facebook is used by teenagers and elders in villages too.

Communalism reaches villages through smart phones

WhatsApp is being misused even more. People form their own groups and become 'admins'. There are people who run dozens of groups and spread hate, not just in cities, but in rural parts of the country.

Whatever happened in Muzaffarnagar earlier this year was a reflection of it. People in villages who were not afflicted by the communal bug also turned communal. The power of WhatsApp can be understood by the way it helped spread of the message of BJP.

The right-wing support ensured that the party got a huge success in Uttar Pradesh (UP). While BJP may term itself moderate, its sister organisations are known for their hardcore right-wing ideology. Members of these organisations are known for their communal diatribe.

It is not that other communities aren't involved in it. There are many Muslims who post objectionable messages and circulate them. Sadly, on both sides, there are less saner voices. We need statesmen, real leaders to tell the youths of nation, to get out of this hate business. It hurts the nation like nothing else.


1. How to deal with communal messages, hate speech and misinformation on social media?

2. Rising Racism: Of online bigots, communal comments and casteist messages on internet

3. Playing flue to buffalow: How to deal with online trolls

4. Abusive messages, comments and this blog