New Delhi: The online
hate campaign targeting people from the northeast has put the
spotlight on the power of the social media network in India, which
counts more than 60 million users, and how this burgeoning
community can be manipulated for insidious propaganda.
The unprecedented exodus of people from the northeast, abetted by
hate messages, has also opened the debate about issues related to
internet freedom and content regulation. India, which is looking
into the alleged role of Pakistan-based elements in using morphed
images on internet, has blocked over 250 websites for
orchestrating the online campaign of hatred.
The last two years have seen an explosion of social media in the
country with overwhelmingly young users.
According to a report by iCRossing, nearly 36 million people in
the country use Facebook. Of these, nearly 50 percent users are
aged below 50. Estimates for 2012 posted on the India pages of
various network sites show that microblogging site Twitter and
LinkedIn have nearly 15 million users each in India.
This mushrooming is a double-edged sword. Social media has created
a vibrant online community and widened public discourse, allowing
a platform for activists with a thousand causes. On the flip side,
it has also become a vehicle of skewered propaganda, as the latest
exodus of people from the northeast from cities like Bangalore and
"The next big war that India may have to wage against terror will
be on the internet," said India-born Ankit Fadia, who is based in
New York and is a cyber security consultant.
"If any wrong, unacceptable and vicious content originates in
Pakistan, it is the responsibility of the citizen of India to
check the veracity of the content. If anything goes wrong, those
monitoring the content should be held culpable. The government
must take action against those who put unacceptable content on
social media websites," Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader
Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS.
Experts say the vast volume of users makes the task of monitoring
The wide spectrum of subscribers' database which cuts social and
language divides - with Facebook using Hindi as one its languages
- has the potential to make the networks national security risk.
Not every user is discerning and the fact that there are no entry
barriers makes the sites porous. Anyone can log in.
"The potential of an individual using a social networking site in
a secretive manner is much more in a social networking site than
in a social media. There is no procedure for registration and
ownership. And so there is no way to pin down the culprits," media
commentator N. Bhaskar Rao told IANS.
He said the government had initiated a "Convergence Bill in 2000
for the merger of telecom, entertainment and info-tech platforms
which could have taken care of the problems".
But it failed to become operative.
The recent developments dredge up fears of a gag on information
The spectre of curbs on the freedom of expression looms large
following Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's
statement about monitoring of content on the internet and social
networking sites this year.
In the last two years, networking sites, taking a cue from the
Arab Spring which had relied heavily on protests on the social
media in the early stages, have mobilised public opinion for
several key social issues.
Constructive debates on issues such as environment, wildlife
conservation, gender justice, human rights, education - and
tirades against cyber pornography and terror, have drawn millions
of users to the social networking sites.
In the last decade, the sites have encouraged even trade and
businesses to create e-commerce bases.
Social networking sites can't be blamed for inciting violence in
northeast, adds Thangkul tribal leader Selicita, who works in the
"Most of those who react to such provocative information join the
hate group without knowing the motives. Those involved in the
violence against residents of northeast on the ground are not
acquainted with such social networking sites," Ngathingpei Khayi,
a Manipuri who too works in capital, told IANS.
"The networking sites are a blessing... they are another freedom
of expression," said Mohammed Abdul, a student of Delhi