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The Financial Express

Disinformation on social media portals 


- Representational image - Representational image

What did happen in Leicester in England between September 17 and 18 that led to arrests of dozens of violence-mongers who allegedly fanned hatred between the Hindu and Muslim communities living so far in peace there?  

Many point to the victory of the India against Pakistan in the Asian Cricket Cup-2022 held in Dubai on August 28. For following that Indian victory over Pakistan, India supporters in groups marched through the streets of Leicester shouting slogans against Pakistan. The marchers, it is said, shouted anti-Pakistan slogans. 

The misunderstandings created over the incident, if any, should have ended there.  

But it did not. It led to serious public disorder on the weekend of 17-18 September when crowds of young men in their late teens and early 20s belonging to both the Hindu and Muslim communities came out in droves on the street. Police intervened to avoid any confrontation.  

But why is this fresh flare-up weeks after the India-Pakistan Asia Cup in Dubai? A BBC investigation has found out that it was all misinformation--fake news circulated in the social media, the Facebook and Twitter, in particular.  

Unfounded reports of a teenage Muslim girl being the victim of an attempted kidnapping by Hindu men, and a Muslim boy in his late teens being pursued allegedly by Hindu extremists, etc were wildly circulated on the social media platforms of the Facebook and the Twitter.  

Interestingly, analysing some 200,000 tweets, a BBC Monitoring tool found 'just over half of mentions were made by accounts that the tool geo-located to India' .  

It is clearly a disinformation campaign using the social media to increase tension between communities.  Another wave of social media activity that also caused quite a stir was the claim that busloads of Hindu activists were coming to Leicester to create trouble.  

It was claimed in some posts that a London-based coach company bused the Hindu activists to Leicester.  

As the BBC investigation further went, since September 18, a video that circulated on the WhatsApp and Twitter showed a coach near a Hindu temple in London and a voice was claiming that it (the coach) had just returned from Leicester.  

Next day, the owner of the coach company complained about being harassed with abusive and threatening telephone calls. Strangely, none of company's coaches had travelled to Leicester on the day reported on the social media or in the past two months before that day, the coach company owner further claimed. 

Also, there were posts about a fire incident that occurred in Birmingham on September 19. Though investigations later found that it was a fire from burning rubbish outdoors which accidentally spread to a nearby building, the social media posts widely circulated on Twitter claimed it was the act of 'Islamic terrorists"! 

Though social media is just the carrier of the incendiary messages deliberately put on the global network of these online media, it is ultimately humans who are responsible for its abuse. And the humans who are to blame are those who are thus distorting messages on the social media to create tension in society as well as those who operate the social media platforms and allow the dangerous contents to be circulated globally without filtering. 

Thankfully, the place of origin of the street brawls triggered by unfounded social media posts, in the shape of texts, audios and videos, is England and not India or Pakistan.  

And that is why, it has been possible to conduct a credible investigation with a dispassionate approach to the issue and adopt a rigorous procedure to go to its roots.  

No doubt such false, inflammatory posts, snowballing unchecked on the social media have the potential to cause communal disharmony and even violence.  

India, Pakistan and other countries where religious communities and factions have deep distrust among themselves, such false social media contents have resulted in tragedies.  

The tech giants, who own these online media platforms, should show more responsibility towards society they are supposed to be serving and stop these tragedies from happening. And they have the technology to do that.  


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