Sensitivity and Social Media as Triggers of Communal Incidents


A curious incident of violence in Central Maharashtra on November 12 triggered by attacks on a community in the State of Tripura which in turn was an outcome of backlash to persecution including arson on minorities in Bangladesh underlines the vulnerability of the Sub Continent to self generating spirals of communal incidents.

Thus what happens in one part of South Asia does not remain confined to that pocket or country but has an impact on other countries.

Within countries it is evident that an incident can influence similar attacks in other parts as well.

This is explained through data derived from the ACLED portal.

As per ACLED Global Dashboard of events, India recorded 2,645 violent events from Nov 05 2020 to Nov 05 this year (2021). There were 961Reported Fatalities of these 526 are classified as Battles by ACLEC, 1,531Riots, 131Explosions/Remote violence and 457Violence against civilians. India falls in the third category of violence prone countries by ACLED during the period.

The role of social media in creating the spiral of violence is also evident with incidents as these flagged on Facebook and What’s App which are transmitted in real time thus inflaming passions.

India is on top of Facebook's Integrity Country Prioritisation list for 2021 [List 2021] as per a report in the Economic Times.

The Facebook List 2021 includes list of countries which are at the highest risk of violence, hate speech and misinformation as per the Economic Times.

India is categorised along with Pakistan, Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia.

The other countries on the list include the Philippines, Yemen, Egypt, Russia and Myanmar which is as per the disclosures made to the US Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to US Congress in a redacted form by the legal counsel of former Facebook employee Frances Haugen which was reviewed by ET.

Importantly Facebook does not have adequate internal controls to block hate speech in real time.

India, with over 530 million users, is the largest market in terms of users for Facebook as per the Economic Times.

US which has around 200 million users gets a disproportionate 87% allocation in its budget to curb misinformation.

Facebook whistleblower Haugen recently highlighted this aspect as follows,"So, Facebook's own internal research says even for the classifiers that exist today, they're only getting three to 5% of hate speech. When Facebook tells you only 0.05% of content on the platform is hate speech, that is so misleading because they're not detected in the first place. In most languages, they don't have a hate speech classifier. I think they should have to publish those systems. So, those labelling systems like hate speech, violence, nudity, they should have to say which languages are they in? And they have to say here are examples of different scoring levels (of how successful the systems are in weeding out such content)," Haugen said.

A combination of communal sensitivity and increasing pervasion of social media can prove highly challenging and places India as a high risk country with impact not just within but also from the region as the spiral set off by attacks on minorities in Bangladesh in October spreading to Tripura and thereafter to Maharashtra denotes.

Law Enforcement Agencies will therefore be under considerable stress as far as management of communal situations in India are concerned and sustained tracking of hot spots as well as social media at the local level assumes importance.

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