21, Jan 2019 | Varsha Torgalkar
“Withdrawing from the social media should not be an option.”
In order to empower citizens to use social media as a tool for freedom against censorship and hate, Sabrang India and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) held a day-long session called ‘Netizens for Democracy’ in Mumbai on January 19. The event that received tremendous response from over 600 attendees was organised to discuss how to use social media can be used to counter hate in majoritarian state among other topics.
Prashant Bhushan, eminent lawyer, in a session called ‘Media in Times of a Mejoritarian State’, agreed that media and social media (SM) have been used to promote hate divisiveness and fake news. He said, “However, the platform that is so cheap, and can be used by anybody to counter fake news or put out facts like Dhruv Rathi or like stand-up comedian Akash Banerjee are doing. Speeches of Kanhaiya Kumar, JNU student leader, are being viewed by over five lakh people. There should be a body called Media Council that should not be controlled by the government, and people should be able to register hate speeches or fake news over there.”
Dilip Mandal, former editor of India Today (Hindi), pointed out that echo chambers of BJP IT Cells that spread hate, communal and fake news are bigger as compared to the ones who counter the hate news. He, however, accepted that it was the social media that spread the news about the bandh in April last year, against the dilution of SC/ST Act, and that the mainstream media had completely turned a deaf year to the news. But it is because of the social media that people got the message, and bandh was successful.
Ashok Dhavale and J P Gavit, leaders from theAll India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), who had organised the farmers’ march from Nashik to Mumbai in March last year – that saw over 40,000 farmers participating – shared how the social media spread information about their march among people, specially in Mumbai. Gavit said, “We received tremendous welcome and support in Mumbai, and people arranged food and all support for us. Social media helped in spreading the message.”
In a session ‘Censorship and Trolls’, panellists Abhisar Sharma, a journalist, Umar Khalid, former JNU student leader, Gurmeher Kaur, Sanjukta Basu and Preeti Sharma Menon, AAP leader, agreed that online trolls can be abusive, and they fear that their families might suffer due to these trolls. Trolls have actually compelled many women to withdraw or minimise their presence on the social media. Arfa Khanum Sherwani, senior journalist from The Wire, pointed out that it is not a good sign, and said that withdrawing should not be an option, but busting hate messages should be. Basu said that regular abuse for years has made her develop thick skin towards the online abuse.
Abhya Xaxa, tribal activist, opined that voices of marginalised like Dalits, Tribals and women get little space even among the liberal voices. He said, “I feel there is genocide of tribal voices in social media. True voices of the Tribals are not being heard, and false images of their culture are being promoted. Tribals had the age-old tradition where they would gather for weekly market (haat) in various villages, and would exchange opinions through plays, dance performances and discussions. It has been banned , as they think of them as Naxals.”
Sherwani said she is disappointed as liberals don’t allow marginalised to grow as leaders and want them to follow what they decide. She said, “My house was attacked in 1992 riots, and attackers were chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Recently, I was criticised even by the liberals for opposing the slogan Bharat Mata ki Jai.”
Divya Kandukuri, a mental health and anti-caste activist asserted that she would not leave social media, no matter what kind of abuse she has to face. She said, “Due to the social media, we have reached here, but what next needs to be thought as the little space for marginalised is shrinking.”
The Hate Hatao App to register hate speeches
The app called Hate Bachao is to be launched on January 30 – on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi – to fight hate. Anybody can register and report instances of hate speech, threat, hate crimes with appropriate evidences such as videos, screen shots or images, on this app. Complaints will be lodged with the police, and will be taken to the courts.
Rajdeep Sardesai opined that many more WhatsApp groups should be created to spread positive news, communal harmony, and so on to bust the trolls and hate speeches.
Richa Singh, first woman president of students’ union in the Allahabad University, who along with many other students was abused at the university, ahead of Yogi Adityanath’s visit at the university in 2015, said, “That incident removed fear from our minds. We need to understand that over 20 crore people must be using mobiles, and 10 crores are active on social media, but remaining 100 crores are there without social media. And public activism along with SM campaign is the solution to win over hate environment being promoted by current regime,” she said.
Nandita Das, Shashi Tharoor, Javed Jaffrey, Harish Iyer and many other activists also shared their opinions in various sessions.
The original article may be read here.