Since Modi’s election in 2015, platforms like Whats App and Twitter have played an increasing role in sparking communal violence, especially against Muslims and Dalits in northern India.
Two infamous incidents are the “Dadri Mob Lynching” in 2015 and the “Kathua Rape Case” in 2018.
According to Social Media Hoax Slayer founder Pankaj Jain, “Most of our population from the villages, or with access to cheap data but no formal education are users of Whats App.” Pratik Sinha, founder of fact-checking website Alt News, agrees, saying, “There is a huge section of the population whose internet literacy is close to nil and who do not know what to believe.
They are being fed with rumors.” Dadri and Kathua The speed and ease with which social media spreads rumors has aggravated communal violence outbreaks since 2014, including the “Dadri Mob Lynching” in 2015 and the “Kathua Rape Case” in 2018.
Unlike a TV, which was not only expensive to own but generally produced content from an elite network, social media was free and based on content produced by the mass public.
Without revenue-generating streams like member fees, social media companies have had to be more aggressive with advertising, which includes the development of targeted ads that meet “you exactly where you are, with your preferences and prejudices — at least as best as an algorithm can intuit them.” What those algorithms tell us about people's motivation is important.However, social media use in the aftermath of both incidents has turned what would have been a regional conflict 50 years ago into a national, and arguably a worldwide, crisis.In both the Dadri and Kathua incidents, protesters were riled-up by viral messages, photos, and videos on Whats App and other social media platforms.You Tube, founded in 2005, had about 180 million Indian mobile users by March 2018, seeing a spike of 70 million users over the past two years.The combination of cheap access to smartphones and companies driven by engagement which is, in turn, motivated by users’ fear and anger, has proven to be a volatile mix in India.In 2018, India became the fastest-growing market for Twitter in terms of active uses and the market grew almost five times faster than the global average.Whats App, now owned by Facebook, was released in 2009 and is ranked India’s favorite chat app with more than 200 million active monthly users.This new, universal vision of Hinduism sliced across region, caste, and class distinctions, allowing the BJP to expand beyond its traditional bases of regional, if not national, power.By 2009, the advent of social media changed the context of politics once again, accelerating the developments initiated by television.The Indian general election is in less than a month, and social media companies are worried.In India, disinformation can do more than change an election’s outcome. At least 25 people have died since June because of viral content traced back to social media platforms.