Social Media’s Anti-Social Potential.

It began in Pune with sporadic violence, which looked like handiwork of a few social miscreants. <<Ten youths from Northeast, mainly students, were attacked in separate incidents on August 8 and 9 in Kondhwa and around Poona College in Camp area>>.

On 11th August, a meeting organized at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan by Raza Academy to protest the bloody communal clashes in Assam & in Myanmar in which the Muslims were allegedly the victims turned violent. An SMS was doing the rounds to canvass support among Muslims for the meet and read: <<Burma, Assam, Gujarat, Kashmir ke bad na jane kahan? Burma mein Musalmano ke qatl-e-aam or zulm ke khilaf Azad Maidan me Sunday ko rally hai. America me 5 Sikho ka katal hua to media or sarkar me hadkam hai, or lakhon Musalmanon ki zindagi ki koi keemat nahi. Sab ki ankhen band hai. Is SMS to Sunday se pehle Hindustan ki har Musalman or mantriyo or media tak pohchao..>>.Some speakers made provocative speeches to incite “action”. 63 people were injured, of them 58 were policemen and at least 3 media persons. Two Muslim youths were killed in police firing. The result of the incitement was conspicuous.

15th August marked India’s Independence day and 65 years in the life of a nation. Yet, people of North East India from Bangalore and Hyderabad are gripped by insecurity, and panic drives them to railway stations in hoards to get home fast. A home, which itself is torn by violence.
In Bangalore, <<The railways have already sent over 6900 natives of northeast home by two special trains and the regular Bangalore City-Guwahati express on Wednesday night. On Thursday, the situation at the city railway station was chaotic as thousands of northeast people and Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet nationals thronged to get tickets and leave the city, as early as possible. Many of them have not even got any tickets but are not ready to get back to their houses in Bangalore>>. Railways sold another 2020 tickets for those wishing to leave on Thursday. Hyderabad too is witnessing similar scenes

Mob that took to violence had come armed with iron rods, sticks & petrol cans -the last were used to set OB vans & police vehicles on fire. Was the violence premeditated? Suspicions are strong because of widespread use of social media: << the word about the event was spread through Facebook, sources said, adding that the investigators might rope in the Cyber Crime cell to find out who posted the online messages and sent the SMSes>>.Farid Shaikh, president of Mumbai Aman Committee, claimed: <<We warned them that people would come in large numbers and it would be tough for you, so please maintain control. But when we saw that youth were coming with “lathis” and “hathoda”; also they were managing to procure petrol then our sixth sense alarm went on and it was apparent that there was a plan to attack the police and media>>. The ripples of this violent arson would continue to spread through cyber space, often distorting the picture further through prejudice and ignorance (जोश है, लेकिन होश कहाँ?).
The mood and size of the gathering are likely to have been << ignited by mass distribution of inflammatory text messages, video clips and photographs of killings in Myanmar….The video clippings of killings of Muslims in Burma are today available with most of the young boys on their mobile phone. These are so provocative that youth would have definitely come to protest>>.
But this has been going on for quite some time and points to the failure of Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing, and sundry other agencies of state security. As early as 19 July Faraz Ahmed, a Pakistani Journalist and blogger, had warned in a post on, Social Media Lying to about Burma’s Muslim ‘cleansing’ <>. This one post is a must read to see what havoc social media can play in the manipulative hands of bigots.
The photograph below is one of the many from the facebook page of Rohingya Muslims, and the link to the photo is here. It was also picked up by Iran Bangala Radio.

This would wrench the guts of any right thinking person. A heinous act that cries out for meting out exemplary punishment to the perpetrator. The difficulty is that another site claims it is of 11 year old Sujata Chakma of Ultachari area of Rangamati District of Bangaladesh and she met her grisly fate at the hands of Muslim settlers. It says this incidence took place on 9 May, and it is posted on 12 June in the context of an attempted rape of another indigenous Chakma girl. If true, this definitely predates the violence against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State of Myanmar, which began with alleged rape of a Buddhist girl by 3 Muslim men in late May.

Here is the photo-gallery created on Face Book regarding the violence on Rohingya-Muslims. It has this photograph presumably showing bodies of scores of dead “Rohingya-Muslims”.
But the trouble is the same photograph appears here. The AP photograph is of the 2004 victims of Tsunami victims in Indonesia.
Quite obviously this is a diabolic plot to foment discontent and hatred of others among Muslim “Qaum” [قوم مسلما]. It builds upon real events and then mangles them to suit desired purpose. The plot cuts across national boundaries. It is a challenge for intelligence community to unravel it, identify the plotters, and bring full wait of the justice to bear upon them. Is the same social media at work behind the fear psychosis and large scale flight of North-East Indians from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and elsewhere? Who is behind it? The task is challenging as the cyber space is transnational and tends to get saturated quickly through endless ricochet , but that should not deter anybody to seek “easy way out” of censorship, which won’t work. There is a need to understand the sociology of social media. Like in real life, birds of same feathers congregate together in cyber-life. But, unlike real-life, the members of “congregation” often do not know each other, do not know whether someone is who says who he is, and of each others intentions. The benefit of face-to-face meeting, where body language can offer many clues to what is unsaid, is absent. Nor does one know anything about the reliability and dependability of a source- a trust or lack of it that one develops in real life through interactions over a period. This makes it easy too to “infiltrate” such groups and subvert them. Another difficulty is the short attention spans of social media participants, who are mostly in the “breaking the news” mode. Add to this the fact that almost everyone accepts a message uncritically and credulously if it agrees with one’s “worldview”. A “worldview” that is the fulcrum around which one’s social media group revolves. Any news within this world becomes an  “instant hit” and a “gospel truth”, which is obligingly regurgitated without end. Short attentions spans love pictures too. Ain’t a picture worth more than a 1000 words? Yes, it is; and one has seen above with what effect. This is a challenge that has to be met. It is not insurmountable. Intellegence agencies would find many among the internet community who would be willing to collaborate for free to take down such plots before they can do damage. What it needs is some imagination and participatory work ethic.
It is also a sobering message to everyone to be wary of all “news” & “pictures” that lurk in the cyber space and to make every effort to verify them before passing on.

3 Responses to “Social Media’s Anti-Social Potential.”

  1. Prakash Dube Says:

    Thanks for indepth information.

  2. Yusuf Muchhala Says:

    HiYour piece on sociology of social media is remarkably perceptive and I say this after pondering over it for sometime….Yusuf Muchhala

  3. netmonks Says:

    Thanks for the information.Social media bangalore

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