Lucknow: During his interactions at Silicon Valley last month when Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of social media platforms like Facebook and micro-blogging site Twitter as the new neighbourhoods, little did he know that in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sent him to parliament, this neighbourhood was fast turning fatally dangerous.
Statistics available with the state police suggest this as more and more communal flashpoints in the state over the past one year have been triggered by inflammatory posts, pictures and videos on social networking sites. From the picture of a slaughtered cow in Dhaka to open requests to collect and stockpile weapons to protect the community, various posts doing the rounds on Facebook, Twitter and even Whatsapp have endangered the fragile peace in the state and in some instances led to communal clashes and loss of lives and property.
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Daljit Chowdhary admitted of the menace being created by such objectionable and inflammatory posts and said that the police were vigilant and acting on everything reported to them. He said that the police, after identifying such elements, were invoking sections 153-A and 295-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Gangster Act and the National Security Act (NSA) against such people.
Police, however, say that after the Supreme Court struck down the section 66-A, which aided in the arrest of people spreading hatred through computers, their hands have been tied to a large extent. The dangerous proportions that the social media is taking viz-a-viz inciting communal passions can be gauged by the fact that in the last one month, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had twice got the police to issue a Whatsapp number to which people can send objectionable posts for action.
And the number is flooded with complaints. In the last fortnight, it has got almost 2,500 complaints, a senior police officer said. A lab in Meerut is monitoring these complaints and the state government has also formed a committee under ADG (Technical Services) R.K. Vishwakarma to keep a tab on the social media. This panel would also have SSP Amit Pathak and IG Special Task Force (STF) Sujit Pandey as its members.
The state police have recently written to Twitter India, seeking the removal of certain tweets that were posted in the aftermath of the Dadri lynching. IG Prakash D informed that the DIG (Meerut), who monitors the special lab, has written to Twitter officials requesting that certain tweets be removed while a case has already been registered against the people who posted them.
The social media lab of the UP police, sources said, has also identified 120 catch words which would be kept under watch in future as they are being used by mischief-makers to spread hatred and communal unrest. And, as the UP police go all out against mischief and rumour mongers on the social media, their fear is not misplaced.
In the past, all major communal flash points in the state had the social media somewhere in the jigsaw. In Saharanpur some time back, a woman had posted a picture of a police sub-inspector who was mowed down by a truck. She said the cop was run over by the truck driver when he tried to stop the truck that was full of cows being taken for slaughter. It later transpired that the policeman was killed by people involved in illegal mining.
Similar mischief has been done through the social media's misuse in Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and in Bahraich, Agra and Lucknow to stoke communal passions. A video on YouTube, shared extensively on social media platforms, had led to the Muzaffarnagar riots that left 63 dead and displaced several thousands.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)