Delhi Police’s solution to rumour mongering via social media is to deploy Cyber Forensic Vans that can scan a suspect’s digital devices, social media and messaging platforms.
The last few months have seen a disturbing trend in India — of mob violence growing exponentially.
July 13, a man was lynched by a mob of at least 2,000 people in Karnataka. July 1, five persons were lynched in Maharashtra; June 28, three men were lynched in Tripura; June 22, one person was lynched in Chhattisgarh; June 23, one lynched in West Bengal; June 13, two lynched in West Bengal; June 8, two lynched in Assam.
The appalling incidents have one thing in common — fake news spread violently over messaging service WhatsApp of predatory child snatchers. The earlier pattern was of mob attacks on Dalits and Muslims for rumours of beef consumption or cow slaughter.
A February report this year had said 500 million people in India were using WhatsApp. While this should be a positive indicator of progression of digital India, it now sounds menacing. The messaging service commands a force of people that could bay for blood through one forwarded message.
In J&K, the district magistrate of Kishtwar, Angrez Singh Rana, has ordered all the admins of WhatsApp groups to register with his office. Its viability is in question however, as many of us make innocuous groups for family, football friends, work friends, gym friends — the list goes on. Will this see an end to WhatsApp groups?
Asked about Delhi Cyber Cell’s effort to combat rumour mongering on WhatsApp, DCP Anyesh Roy told Patriot that when any information or rumour that can affect public peace and order, comes to the knowledge of law enforcement agencies, “all efforts are made to prevent further spread of such inciting messages.”
This month, it has launched a van on the streets to fight cybercrime. Called the Cyber Forensic Van, its capabilities include scanning the accused person’s digital devices, social media platforms and messaging platforms — like WhatsApp. There’s only one for now, but two more such vans are in the pipeline.
In several cases to do with social media harassment and fraud, Roy says, the actual illegal content is not handed over to police by the service providers (Facebook, Twitter). Thus the van would help investigators get irrefutable proof against the accused.
Cases registered in Delhi under the IT act during 2017 were 84, data provided by the Delhi Police Headquarter says 40 cases have already been registered this year, upto July 15.
The government has its own plans, that is, to establish a social media communication hub whereby all platforms of social media would be monitored. The Supreme Court, however, is not too pleased.
A bench comprising Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud expressed alarm over the idea. Hearing a public interest litigation moved by the Trinamool Congress (TMC) legislator Mahua Moitra seeking a stay on the establishment of the hub, Justice Chandrachud went on to say that, “If the government starts tapping WhatsApp messages, we will be moving towards becoming a surveillance state”.
The downside to monitoring social media has been seen in recent years. While Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was struck down by the SC as unconstitutional in 2015 — after several people were arrested for their social media posts — Section 66 of the IT Act still remains.
The Supreme Court believes what the government must do is create anti-lynching laws. Calling it “horrendous acts of mobocracy”, the bench headed by Chief Justice Misra said that lynchings “cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land”.
It asked the government to deal with lynching as a “special and separate offence and provide adequate punishment,” and recommended the creation of a senior police post in each state to head a special task force dedicated to monitoring individuals involved in “spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news.” The bench also recommended the creation of fast-track courts with trials ending in six months with highest possible sentences for the convicted.
Surely, killing the messenger is not the solution.
‘I have been framed’
Zakir Ali Tyagi, an 18-year-old from Muzaffarnagar, was picked up on the night of April 2, 2017 by Uttar Pradesh Police and put behind bars for 42 days. He was charged under IPC Section 420 (cheating); Section 66 of the Information Technology Act; and Section 124A dealing with sedition.
This was done because he made a pun of the river Ganga being declared a living entity, questioned BJP’s promise of building a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and other political comments. Patriot’s conversation with him:
Do you still get harassed or threatened?
There are a lot of trolls on social media. So it keeps going on. But I don’t care, I still post political comments. Every time I say something against the government, they call me a desh drohi (traitor); they say, Pakistan wapas chala ja (Go back to Pakistan).
But I don’t do anything. Now I don’t even think of putting an FIR. Once I went to the police station and they wanted to take a photo of me. I got scared.
How did your arrest take place?
I wrote against the government. I had posted about UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addressing party workers where he said criminals, goons and mafias in the state must leave. So, I asked, what about him? As he has several criminal cases against him.
They came and arrested me within three days. The government was after me.
In prison I was made to sit outside every day and beaten up. I believe they were Bhajpa ke aadmi (BJP men) because they weren’t wearing uniforms, and the way they spoke to me.
What stage has your court case reached?
Since the past five or six months, I have been going to court. Not once have I met the judge. I only sign a register and go back home. You know, we have a lot of faith in the judiciary. We aren’t revengeful, we aren’t mob lynching kind of people. We respect the law of the land and knock on its doors. But nothing has happened.
The cheating case was added because I put an image of a policeman slain in Dadri as my Facebook profile picture. A lot of people were changing their profile pictures to his picture as a mark of respect.
And they have gone a step further and added sedition against me. They say I’m a traitor. But I have been framed. I wanted to make something of myself, but the government wants to make my life worse, and that is because I’m a Muslim.
What do you feel about surveillance of social media to counter mob violence?
It’s good. But only if it’s used for the correct purpose. Mob lynching is not a problem because of social media or WhatsApp, it’s because of the kind of people there are.
You can see that I was put in jail for 42 days for some posts I made against the government. Whereas see in Jharkhand, six men convicted of lynching a man (on charges of trading beef) were garlanded by a minister (Union Minister Jayant Sinha) when they came out on bail.
You are now studying to be a journalist?
Yes, I used to think about becoming one. And now, the government has left me no choice but to pursue it.