September 10, 2013

Muzaffarnagar violence: social media abused again?

Muzaffarnagar-tension
Children injured in communal violence
photo from oneindianews
There are reports in the press about sharing of a video clip and some morphed newspaper clips over Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Some in the media have inferred that this sharing has contributed to fanning communal passions in Muzaffarnagar where about 30 people have lost life in the last one week.


It is reported that the police have blocked a video clip on social media, which had been shared by 229 people before the police registered FIR against people who had shared it. This was a 2010 clip of two boys being lynched by desperadoes in Sialkot, Pakistan. This clip was circulated purportedly to show as if youth of a community were being lynched by those from the other community in Muzaffarnagar. The fake newspaper reports were from a popular Hindi newspaper and the content of the original reports had been changed to make it inflammatory. These are police versions as reported in the media. God knows the truth!

Three quick points about social media’s role in these tense situations.

One. In the present case, nothing has gone viral on the social media. If these clips and clippings have been circulated – even with the intention of fanning ill-will – the impact would have been minimal. There were many other forces at work that led to communal hatred and these forces were at work for quite some time in that area. Anyway, the population that is indulging in rioting in Muzaffarnagar is not big user of smart phones and internet.

Two. Social media tools are just tools. Rumours used to be spread, and the spread was faster than any good news’ spread, when there was no web-based media in place. These tools are tools and like a knife and a screw-driver, these can be used to cut veg/ fix a screw or stab a person.

Three. It appears that social media is playing a more constructive role than negative in the case of Muzaffarnagar riots. We have noticed quite a few Twitter and Facebook entries denouncing political parties for vote-bank politics and the UP government’s inaction despite intelligence inputs – the two root causes of spread of communal tension in that area. Many blogs and other social media posts are cautioning others about possible exaggeration or wrong reporting by rumour-mongers.

Portraying the social media as villain is finding a lame excuse for failure of the state government in dealing with communal tension, isn’t it?