Conflict · India · Politics

Digital Hatred, Real Violence

This paper  was triggered by a study of social media commentary I had released earlier this year, that had shown a spike of 11 percent in religion based hate speech between 2016 and 2017. Here I try to delve into the causes and spread of such speech on social media and the intersections between free speech, hate speech and incidents majoritarian violence. Finding theoretical ground in sociological studies of the behaviour of majorities who perceive persecution, as well as media studies about propaganda, the paper asks if, and where populist, online hate against India’s minorities become the sanction for, or a reflection of the violence taking place against them in the real world. Social media’s impact on mainstream media, and the way people communicate with one another and disseminate information, has become a subject of serious study for journalists, academics and policymakers alike. While it has been a significant equaliser as a vehicle by which the fundamental right to freedom of expression is guaranteed everyone irrespective of class, creed or geography, these very same platforms are also becoming spaces where—in the garb of free speech—misinformation and hate are able to flourish. In India, these spaces provide both tacit and overt sanction for rising incidents of majoritarian violence as identity-based, populist politics dominate the country’s landscape. In this essay, I ask whether government agencies and individuals working to counter terrorism and violent extremism in India can bring majoritarian violence of this nature under their umbrella.

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