Can we respond to the coordinated hate and racism online surrounding COVID?
Surely Gayatri. Some steps we have taken are listed below specifically on hate speech on social media platforms. Our broad position on this is to follow the standards prescribed by the Rabad plan of action. I am pasting it below with a full link to a related advocacy action. Do let us know what more we can do!
- . In this regard, the Rabat Plan of Action developed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2013 suggests key factors that must be considered prior to imposing restrictions on speech:
- Social and political context which existed at the time the speech was made.
- Speaker’s position and status in society.
- Content and form of the speech.
- Reach of the speech act including the size of its audience and mode of dissemination.
- Likelihood and imminence of harm."
Thanks for pointing to the resources, Apar. Would also like us to take a look at the statement from Equality Labs - https://medium.com/@EqualityLabs/stopcovidislamophobia-covid-19-appeal-letter-c47dd0860ff1
There was a good Twitter storm yesterday with #StopCOVIDIslamaphobia.
It would be great if we can get on a call and see if a discussion can be organised in the next few days to address this issue and explore how we can engage the public and the platforms.
Is it necessary to respond?
There is a general rule learnt by those who have been around internet forums for a longer time, and not yet learnt by our Twitterati -> “Don’t feed the trolls”. Basically don’t like, retweet, call out such posts. They feed on reaction, and the best way to discourage such posters is to ignore them.
Every time you feel like retweeting something that is islamophobic (or racist) to show how “bad the other people are”, remember that they represent only a minority. Also you are automatically guilty of selection bias because now it becomes your responsibility to call out every incident of hate speech, anywhere in the world at any point of time, otherwise they will say -> you only call out so-and-so people and not all these others.
It’s a hard problem, but by responding we only make trolls more important. The best is to unfollow / block / not retweet the trolls.
Rushabh, welcome to the forum! Thank you for the advice to set this up and it is leading to a lot of thought and connection with our community of supporters.
While, I generally do agree with you not to feed specific trolls, the issue is a media landscape that has reached a tipping point. Yes, I personally do not respond to attacks on Twitter (which happens to be the social media platform of choice for both of us ). But I sense there is a need to push back systematically against online hatred.
Today towards a large measure, the online media ecology is an extension of groups of bigots who organize on Whatsapp and Telegram Groups and virulent TV anchors that whip up communal hatred. All of this ends up flooding our social media timelines even by mild mannered, unwitting relatives, friends, sometimes even us (I am saying this given even I am learning every moment of my life).
This is cycle of trending hashtags, whatsapp forwards and viral posts are leading to growing division in India society which pains me tremendously given one of our strengths as a country is diversity and plurality. Hence, I do think organised campaigns as @gayatri posted on, do help bring a level of demand for accountability to stem this tide of hate and communal poison.
On whether this is effective as an advocacy strategy is another question (which you do hint towards), but I do think this plays into a larger, more dynamic solution toolkit. On our part we have in addition to writing to the Delhi Government, in late March written to the Union Health Ministry to mask the identities of persons who were suspected of Covid fearing that it would be used to target individuals from minority groups.
Just some thoughts. Let me know what you think?
In my opinion, it is a really tough line to draw. Religious discrimination needs to be handled on society level and also by legal means in case of hate speech or cases like boycott and inciting violence. But I think the broader point you brought out is more important.
The big problem is that we don’t have an alternate vision of society other than western liberalism, which itself is in decline. Western liberalism is hated on both sides, with people just ready to pour out their hurts. Don’t even get me started on the communists. Two large religious groups are on a warpath and the best outcome is if somehow they can avoid each other.
Like Urusula Le Guin said, “To oppose is to sustain”. By making a statement (if it can be avoided) we are giving chance for others to oppose and maybe fanning this fire even more. IFF is doing a very important job in ensuring internet freedom and it will be sad if it gets stuck in this side show of religious tensions. By getting engaged here, we are just becoming a part of this wild “fire” of communal tension. Internet freedom, social justice, human rights are very important issues that need to stand on their own.
Religious bigotry is not going to end by making a statement. I am sure you have been parts of these debates, where people are so scared of the “other” that they are ready accept such injustice in the “greater common good”. Very intelligent, traveled, educated people are fine with state terror and abuse. They are okay with 4M people under lockdown for months. It’s their way of life that is under threat. We can’t win this debate. Let’s stay away from it.
Will such people ever allow internet freedom is a big question. Maybe we should be seriously looking at building our own mesh networks while we can. Is there an initiative around this?
Thanks for such a considered response.
While the nature of our work inevitably is posed towards internet freedom, the reality of it’s approach is that such freedom comes with larger social justice. Hence, to some degree we will need to manage risks but our commitments to ensure that communities that uniquely suffer harms will also need to be addressed honestly. I think strategy and remaining true to our commitments is a part of our culture.
I also think the risks you indicate are towards a polarization that has taken in Indian society in which people approach each other from the perspective of labeling rather than empathy, understanding and collaboration. Here it becomes easy to demand moral purity that ultimately undermines movement building which often requires consensus. Recently, I read Amy Chua’s Political Tribes which is a a fairly engaging account on this based within the political context of the United States resonates with some local leanings. Ultimately there are no easy or fast answers, but by engaging openly with the staff, our growing community of volunteers and supporters (like you!), I am hopeful we can continue to improve our judgement and serve IFF’s organizational mission.
More directly on your question on mesh networks. It is illegal to roll it out due to the provisions of the Indian Telegraphs Act which requires most such deployments to be licensed. This is severely regulated hence adoption at scale is difficult. But, I agree we need to do more work here. @sidharth
So I came across this rant on Twitter https://twitter.com/TimesNow/status/1252625681521000453
If we really want to “wade” into these waters, while we call out discrimination against Islam, we must also call out discrimination in Islamic communities against it’s own minorities and also some of the oppressive practices that continue to flourish.
I think this is important we make it a “secular opposition” and not just opposition against those who discriminate Muslims.
Specifically, instead of defining it as “Islamophobia”, opposition to following practices might have a higher moral weight:
- Religious Nationalism (instead of Hindu Rashtra)
- State intimidation and oppression of minorities by wrongful arrest and false cases
- Social discrimination and boycott against minorities
- Mob lynching
- False news, violent and hate speech by political leaders
- Long term suppression of civil liberties in certain states.