Hate or love: What we click on the social media?
Biju P R | 17 Aug 2013

Social media has demonstrated itself to be the citadel of free speech on the Internet. However, this fondness for freedom of expression has lead to emergence of a disturbing trend over the years as the line between freedom of speech and hate speech has become blurred.

Lamentably, our experience with social media proves that we heard about Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a fleet of social media platforms for all appalling reasons. Aseem Trivedi incident, government attempt to censor selected Internet sites, government banning bulk SMSs and MMSs across the country, arrest of Ambikesh Mahapatra for forwarding cartoons, the Facebook Wall post by Shaheen Dhada and these all fetch us to a hub of negative news.

We may hear the story about people spreading messages both spiteful and healthier for causes, action, and vigilance or in solidarity with people, whether corruption, rape, energy, ecology and many things, which we hear as a standard of life, issue.

However, do we ever wonder what is the ratio between the two? Is social media a space for free speech or hate speech? What is the pointer by which many episodes on social media can be distinguished as either free speech or hate speech?

Shashi Tharor raging cattle class controversy on Twitter, texting views on 16 December 2012 Delhi rape incident, yet again irritated the story by political class! What differentiates social media as a free space and hate space seems almost difficult to trace out in the case of digital nomads.

Kanpur-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi got arrested in Mumbai on 9 September 2012 on the charges of sedition under 124A (dealing with sedition) of the Indian Penal Code for posting content on his website, Cartoons Against Corruption to support the anti-graft movement in India.

The government ordered more than 300 URLs to be blocked in an attempt to halt the spread of rumors about ethnic violence. This makes an analogy regarding what is the distinction between hate speech and more speech. The Indian government’s attempt to clean out identified URLs on the Internet have caused massive outrage.

The Government attempted to block selected URLS of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube Wikipedia, Blogger and Word Press. Surprisingly, the list also contained URLs belonging to several mainstream media websites though it was not clear if it was due to user-generated content like comments or due to news reports.

To check spread of rumors, which has led to exodus of northeastern people from certain states, government banned bulk SMSes and MMSes for 15 days across the country from 17 August 2012. Muslim leaders and Islamic organizations appealed to the people and students not to believe in rumours spread via social media platforms that they are likely under attack in retaliation to the Assam ethnic violence. However, over 1500 people had fled Maharashtra just in four days as reported by the media.

The continuing social media powered protests and activism in various parts of India has provoked many responses amongst most of us, and often these are conflicting. When you hear that social media space has a lot about people campaigning through social web, there is other side when we hear that people do spread comments, messages, and stories, which thicken hate.

Ambikesh Mahapatra, a teacher with the Chemistry Department of the Jadavpur University and his neighbour Subrata Sengupta, got arrested by the police. The reason was the alleged forwarding of cartoons of Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee to nearly 65 recipients and mocking her government policies. The police slapped IPC sections 500, 509, 114 and sections 66 A and B of the IT Act 2000 on the professor, who was arrested on April 13, 2012.

A 21-year-old girl from Mumbai wrote on the Facebook against the proposed “Bandh”. The text was typed and updated on a day Mumbai went idle for the funeral of Bal Thakeray, founder of the Shiv Sena party. Huge number of people took to the streets to watch the procession, and 20,000 police personnel deployed to maintain order. A 20-year-old female friend of the commenter liked the original comment, which led to the arrest of both the girls under controversial provision of the Section 66 (A) of Indian IT Act.

Hate groups use social media to spread disgust messages, and recruit new members and disseminate hatred. Hate speech is communication that denigrates a particular person or a group based on religion, sexual orientation, race, colour, disability, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or other characteristic. Any speech, writing, gesture or conduct, or display and hate usually mark agitation, aggression or bigotry against an individual or a group.

An important tendency found in the emerging interest in the use of social media for networking with people for various reasons is that of the use of such spaces for virulent and hostile messages and creating belligerent bellicose networks. People found using social media for diffusing hatred and it is flourishing in many respects for extending abhorrence among people. Although the use of social media by hate groups emerged contemporaneously with the popularity of Web and social media spaces, few have researched what influence these groups have.

Recently, there has been a proliferation of online hate groups, both from the political left and right, from white supremacists to eco-terrorists to transnational Jihadists. The uses of the Web to disseminate messages of hate are reaching significant numbers of Internet users, and these groups have been successful in recruiting members.

While anyone can be exposed to and influenced by online hate groups, it is most probable that these groups influence youth most. The current youth generation is the first born after the introduction of Internet, and many young people increasingly live online. Young people are clearly the primary users of social networking sites.

The presence of online hate groups in an environment frequented by youth is a potentially dangerous combination. Research shows that various online communities and social networking sites offer important sources of social identification for youth, and many youth do not distinguish between people they meet online from those they meet offline. Thus, hate groups, even those engaged with virtually, can become important socializing agents in the lives of youth should they become exposed to these groups.

Exposure to online hate ideology seems to occur frequently. While it is undeniable that hate groups existing on the Internet are highly active in the virtual world, actively target youth and have their messages reach a significant number of youth, does this imply youth will embrace their ideology or put their ideology into action? It does not, of course. However, a perusal in to the matter reveals that the likelihood of some youth engaging in hate-inspired actions is likely to increase.

Hate spaces are rampant in online social spaces. Human rights violations, racism, communalism, and almost all nauseating and repulsive tendencies of the society are in the same way shimmering in online spaces. Social media brings about safe sanctuary for deviant behaviours. It is all because such platforms offer many tools by which people do things, which its creators never intended people should do.

Each social media platforms offer different tools and instruments for specific types of networking. The social basis of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube offers sufficient explanation for why such social media platforms are popular among ‘techy-savvy’ organizers of activism.

The issue is what distinguish between love speeches and hate speeches. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are open and public forums where users can upload videos; express views on race, politics, religion, gender, patriarchy, sexuality and life style. They can also create pages and groups to join for or against a cause. Anyone can create a group that opens up hate against certain religions, sexual and ideological preferences, disabilities and racial/ethnic groups.

Let us hope that youth possess potential to distinguish between ideal and real, good and bad and justice and injustice. From free speech to hate speech, the issue is complex a problem of identification. It does not mean that bliss prevails when we criticize, also does not mean that paradise ensured when government refrains. We need a qualitative perception of hate and free speech. Even right to speech has to be protected even if it is hate. However, what is the ideal?

Social media has demonstrated itself to be the citadel of free speech on the Internet. However, this fondness for freedom of expression has lead to emergence of a disturbing trend over the years as the line between freedom of speech and hate speech has become blurred.

The social media has created a thin margin between real and ideal. It has almost become unidentifiable to judge between ending and beginning of freedom. Just a thin boundary marks hate space and free space

(Contributed by Biju. P. R. and Gayathri O. About the Contributors: Biju. P. R is Assistant Professor and HoD, Department of Political Science, Government Brennen College, Kerala. Gayathri. O is Assistant Professor/FDP Scholar, Department of Political Science, KeralaUniversity.)