In Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, two young men knifed another man who was stalking a woman. The stalker’s family lynched the two. And before you could say “what happened” there was a full blown communal riot that claimed 38 lives.
The army has got called out to restore order. It is alleged by political parties of all hues and shades that the riots were caused not by people intent on killing each other, but by a video on youtube that showed, in graphic detail, the lynching of the two young men. Except that the video was not of this particular incident in Muzaffarnagar, but of a similar incident in Pakistan a few years ago. This is not the first time that doctored pictures and doctored YouTube videos have been used to inflame passions. Fake videos and photoshopped images of the violence in Burma towards Rohingya Muslims caused a backlash across various parts of the world, including India.
Similar tactics were used during the Assam riots last year. As always, the call is to get politicians not to shoot off their mouths before they see evidence, but to curtail social media because, the logic goes, that 90% of India who have no access to social media will get outraged by seeing inflammatory, disparaging and obscene picture and video content on computers and smart phones they don’t possess, and spontaneously burst into riots.
If you think that Indian politicians are the only ones subscribing to this logic, you would be wrong. The Turkish PM laid his troubles at the door of social media, so has the Brazilian government.Even the British Police blamed the power of social media in fanning the London Riots.
But, to blame the tool (social media) for riots is to mistake the wood for the trees. It gives administrators a convenient way out for their reading and mishandling of the situation. There was no youtube or social media during the Partition, or during the 1984 riots. The internet was at a nascent stage during the 1992 riots, and social media, as we know it, at a fledgling stage during the 2002 riots.
Then as now, it is people who caused riots, people who make inflammatory speeches and people who kill other people. Putting those who cause and participate in riots in prison is the solution, not curtailing social media.