Social media 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. However, these very same platforms are also becoming spaces where—in the garb of free speech—misinformation and hate can flourish. Social media has also facilitated the recruitment of terrorists by the terror organisation.
Social Media and Extremism
- The Islamic far right in countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia and the Maldives, the Christian far right in the US and Western Europe, the Buddhist far right in Myanmar, and the Hindu far right in India, are feeding on people’s sentiments of being “offended” based on their perception of how freely the religious and ethnic minorities can practice their faith and culture.
- This sense of “offendedness” can often be amplified by the ease of communication on social media.
- Political groups selectively mobilise genuine religious devotion to manufacture both offense and a sense of being offended- or off endedness.
- It is this “making” of offense that is exacerbating communal tensions and dividing an already polarised polity along religious lines.
- The main objective of hate speech is met when the support base is widened, a divisive narrative is created, and people are mobilised around a political agenda.
- The media, meanwhile, are caught in reporting incidents when they happen, or else inadvertently serving as a vehicle for politicians who use hate speech as a tool for identity politics.
- In the process, the media often lose sight of the manufactured quality of hate spin, especially where the line between hate speech and free speech are blurred.
- Vitiated, ideologically polarised and aggressive politics is fast becoming a cauldron of victimhood and rage.
- Although, widespread communal violence and rioting have taken place in the past, social media have the singular power to amplify the speed and force of messages.
- Significant challenge is posed by the algorithms used by these platforms, which distort realities and create alternate ones in echo chambers of like-minded users where beliefs are perpetuated, even those that are premised on hate and lies.
Online Radicalisation and Terrorism
- Internet enhances the opportunities to become radicalised and serves as an ‘echo chamber of extremists.
- Jihadist organisations have made full use of the Internet and the social media for spreading their influence worldwide.
- In this respect, the so called ‘Dark Web’ (part of the World Wide Web not indexed by Web search engines) provides the perfect ‘breeding grounds’ for the seeds of radicalisation to thrive and grow.
- Most jihadist groups use the Internet for the purposes of:
- Scouting prospective radical recruits from the global throng, otherwise difficult to identify and contact in real world.
- Indoctrination and radicalisation.
- Terror financing, mainly through cryptocurrencies.
- Providing instructions for combat training and weapons manufacturing (particularly from objects of everyday use).
- Conducting cyberattacks
- Coordinating terrorist attacks.
- Marshalling forces during active operations in theatres such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.
- In the Indian context, online jihadist radicalisation is not limited only to global jihadist organisations such as the AQIS or ISIS, but also to that of Indigenous and regional groups such as Indian Mujahideen, JeM, LeT, the Taliban.
Use of Social Media by Terror groups in India
- Indian jihadist groups use a variety of social media apps, best suited for their disparate purposes.
- Kashmiri radicals employ WhatsApp groups for coordination and communication: they simply create WhatsApp groups, add all the members, and communicate the date, time and place for conducting mass protests or stone pelting.
- After Burhan Wani’s death, multiple pages were created that called for avenging his death.Many Facebook pages were created after Uri attack and India’s ‘surgical strike’ against jihadist posts inside Pakistan territory.
- LeT used Google Earth to understand locations in Mumbai before the terrorist attacks on the city in 2008.
ISIS and Social Media
- ISIS— following its recent drubbing—runs its global movement entirely online.
- The AQIS has a substantial presence on the Internet already.
- Its now banned and blocked YouTube channels—Ansar AQIS and Al Firdaws—once had subscriptions more than 25,000.
- Its online magazines are Nawai Afghan and Statements, which come out in Urdu, English, Arabic, Bangla and Tamil.
- ISIS members maintain anonymity on social media. They avoid turning on their Global Positioning System (GPS) locations and use virtual private network (VPN).
- The ISIS supporters use VPN or a similar programme for use from a mobile device or Web browser.
- Once installed, users could select an Internet Protocol (IP) address for a country outside the US, and thus bypass email or phone verification.
Measures to Counter Online Radicalisation
- There is a clear need for India to develop effective indigenous counter-radicalisation programmes and evolve strategic communications to disseminate political, liberal, religious, and socially resonant and effective counter-narratives to combat the spread of jihadist radicalisation.
- Specialised task forces and research wings in think tanks and relevant government departments must be developed, as well as competent personnel and facilities must be groomed for implementing the programmes in prisons, seminaries, schools, colleges, etc.
- Civil society needs to be engaged in playing its crucial role in fighting the growing threat of radicalisation in the region.
- Cooperation with the international community, would have to develop appropriate and effective legislation and processes to bring extremist organisations of all denominations to the book, including those that spread hate, even if they do not openly engage in violent activities.
- Such organisations often function as fronts or breeding grounds for raising radical cadres.
- Instances of communal clashes and violence should not be taken lightly or dismissed as rare occurrences in our multi-religious, sectarian, casteist and ethnically diverse society.
- Serious thought must also be given to preventing a climate of mistrust, in times when transnational non-state actors are increasing their seditious activities in the country.
- Various religions and their impact on society should be studied as a secular academic discipline in various universities
- False religious indoctrination of foreign extremist groups through the Internet can be countered in a precise, scientific manner and authorities may not have to depend on biased, opinionated, and poorly educated religious scholars to frame the country’s counter-narratives and deradicalization policies.
- The importance of developing a strong counter-radicalisation presence in the cyber world can also not be understated, particularly in the country’s regional languages in which the ISIS and al-Qaeda are gradually spreading their message.
- There is a need to revitalise India’s and the region’s sociocultural ethos, wherein countries should not just represent political unions but should emerge as organic, composite entities. In the absence of a strong social fabric and common cultural ethos, security measures can never prove sufficiently resilient against the threat of extremism and terrorism.