• Nyayshastram

Curbing Mob Violence Through Censoring Online Hate Speech

Animesh Raitani, Student, West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences

Introduction

In the past decade, India has witnessed an alarming increase in the instances of people taking the law into their own hands and delivering justice themselves. The incidents of mobs attacking unarmed people belonging to vulnerable minorities have raised questions on the existence of an atmosphere of security and tolerance in India. Therefore, it has become imperative to deliberate on this issue, to understand the reasons behind its rise and to create solutions and implement them. While the rise in mob violence is due to the changes in the socio-political atmosphere, the ever-increasing access and use of social media and communication technology have aggravated the problem. Social media platforms have been increasingly providing an opportunity creating and sharing hateful or derogatory speeches of varying degrees. The nexus between the incidents of mob violence and incitement of violence and feelings of hatred through social media has been reported widely and frequently.

While the government has struggled to find a solution to the problem of violence, it has admitted the social media’s role in aggravating the problem.[1] It has put pressure on social media companies to cooperate with it by sharing user metadata and limiting the spread of fake news.[2] This solution not only has the implication of human rights violations but also proves to be insufficient in tackling the problem of mob violence and lynchings. This article aims to discuss the issue in-depth and adduce alternative and workable solutions. Part I will establish the nexus between Hate Speech on social media and the violence as a direct consequence of it. Part II will analyse the jurisprudence of hate speech and mob violence. Part III will discuss various policy recommendations which can be potential solutions to this menace.


I. Hate Speech on Social Media and Mob Violence

Social media has given us the means to share our ideas and views with virtually the whole world. The social media companies have emphasised its use as a platform for facilitating positive interactions and discussions.[3] Its increasing usage implies that a piece of information can be shared easily and instantly with the targeted people. However, this feature of these platforms is capable of manipulating people into believing false information and instilling negative ideas and feelings of hatred. It is not uncommon that this feature has been employed to provoke violence. Numerous studies and data analyses have indicated that hate speech on social media is increasing steadily.[4] This increase poses a grave problem as the violence has been many a time reported being linked with hate speech, produced and circulated online.

Social media has given us the means to share our ideas and views with virtually the whole world. The social media companies have emphasised its use as a platform for facilitating positive interactions and discussions.[3] Its increasing usage implies that a piece of information can be shared easily and instantly with the targeted people. However, this feature of these platforms is capable of manipulating people into believing false information and instilling negative ideas and feelings of hatred. It is not uncommon that this feature has been employed to provoke violence. Numerous studies and data analyses have indicated that hate speech on social media is increasing steadily.[4] This increase poses a grave problem as the violence has been many a time reported being linked with hate speech, produced and circulated online.

Giving a clear definition of the term hate speech is difficult because it is identified by the impact it has on the reader. There are situations and instances where the intention and vocabulary are not hateful, but the implications are.[5] Online hate speech has the potential to radicalise people and to encourage them to undertake criminal and violent acts, either individually or in concert as mobs. It has mainly two forms. The first one usually takes the form of directly inciting bodily harm against a person inciting violence against a group of people. The second one takes the form of rumours which incites violence by stating objectionable actions done by the targeted person or group and thus generating a feeling of hatred indirectly.

The role of rumour in inciting violence has been underscored by many historical events, including the Revolt of 1857 and the violence against Sikhs in 1984.[6] A recent incident of a rumour after the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act clearly shows how the desired feeling of hatred is incited. It was reported that the rumour alleging that mosques in Delhi had announced on loudspeakers that all Hindus would be thrown out of Delhi was doing rounds on right-wing Hindu social media. This rumour prompted many to comment that they will come outside and “teach our Muslim brothers a lesson”.[7] The law-enforcement agencies have revealed that the communal riots and events of mob violence are being brought to the boiling point by factories of rumour-mongers spreading fake news.[8]

Both hate speech and the violence directly occasioned by it are based dominantly on religion and religious-cultural practices related to food and dress.[9] While there are many incidents to support this claim, the one to be highlighted is the murder of Mohammed Afrazul, who was killed and burnt on the scene by the accused on suspicion of propagating love-jihad. The accused was found to have been radicalised by online material which included tweets and videos about love jihad.[10] The accused is still on trial like most of the other perpetrators of violence connected with hate speech. They all take advantage of the inefficient criminal justice system and behind its shortcomings. This is the reason why hate crimes in India constitute the largest daily criminal activity in the country, which goes virtually unchallenged and unpunished in the absence of a clear legal framework.[11]

This clearly shows how people get radicalised by online material published far away. Therefore, the advent of social media has become a concern for the maintenance of peace and security in the society, as it has the power to amplify the speed and gravity of the messages containing hate speech. Such content is able to spread to places hundreds of kilometres away, where its viewers feel it in the manner in which it was intended to be conveyed and consequently get offended to such extent that they pick up arms and resort to violence. Thus, this negative effect of social media has to restricted in order to curb hate crimes and mob violence.


II. Analysing the Jurisprudence Related to the Issue and the Government’s Responsibility Much of the jurisprudence on this issue involves the criminalisation of hate speech and false information. The first thing to be understood is that hate speech does come under the ambit of the right to free speech guaranteed by the Constitution.[12] This right is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by the State under Article 19(2).[13] So the government can enact laws to impose reasonable restrictions on this freedom. The criminal laws to curb hate speech include Section 153(A) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) which penalises the “promotion of enmity based on religion, race, place of birth, language” and Section 505 which penalises publication of statements concerning public mischief.[14] A few more legislation, including the Criminal Procedure Code, The Information Technology Act and the Representation of peoples Act are equipped with the requisite teeth to fight against hate speech.[15] However, a vital tooth fell off the jaw of this legislative structure when the Supreme Court held Section 66A of the Information Technology Act unconstitutional as violative of the right to free speech.[16] It was an essential provision for regulating online speech, yet due to its ambiguous nature and its abuse by the ruling governments, it was declared unconstitutional.[17] This void is allowing the unrestricted circulation of hate speech.

The issue of hate speech was addressed most effectively in Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India[18]. The Supreme Court took notice of the increasing occasions of hate speech and its negative impact. It found that although the term hate speech is not defined in any of the laws of India, the legislature has provided for sufficient and effective relief for the prosecution of authors of hate speech. However, it did not attempt to define or penalise hate speech and referred the matter to the Law Commission. The Commission submitted its report subsequently in 2017. It has suggested in its report that the penal laws be amended for providing a more nuanced definition of offences related to hate speech and occasioned by it.[19] Subsequently, in 2018, the apex court had maintained that the onus is on the state to prevent lynchings and maintain law and order.[20]

Even if we assume that the criminal laws aimed at reducing hate speech are not sufficient and that they can be made better through amendment or bringing in new laws, we have to understand that they are no guarantee that hate crimes will diminish. As far as the crimes of lynching and mob violence are concerned, there are numerous offences under the IPC which take them in their ambit.[21] Therefore, attempting to solve the problem through legislation is a serious misdiagnosis of the issue and then seeking to apply a solution based on the misdiagnosis.[22] The essence of the lynching problem is in the inefficient criminal justice system. The police and prosecution are not only under-staffed and ill-equipped but also thoroughly subservient to the political executive.[23] This can be ascertained when one remembers the Pehlu Khan case.[24] He was attacked by a mob of at least 200 cow vigilantes and later succumbed to his injuries. The investigation carried out, in this case, was grossly negligent and the prosecution handled the evidence shoddily and could not present a strong case at the trial.[25] The political atmosphere has become so polarised that the accused are being revered and garlanded by local politicians instead of being prosecuted and convicted. This has wide ramifications as it normalises the heinous crime of mob lynching. It also instils the feelings of grave insecurity among the minorities.


III. Policy Recommendations

The social media companies have been innovative in combating the rising occasions of hate speech on their platforms. They have invested in employing counter-narratives to match with and defuse the implications of hate speech. However, their efforts are not enough as the issue is becoming graver and more pervasive and complex. They should develop algorithms for identifying hate speech by incorporating the structure of speeches which have already proved to be provoking in the identification mechanisms. They should take care to update them regularly so that they do not find themselves removing innocent speech.

Since the circulation of rumours and fake news through WhatsApp has increased exponentially, the company should be mandatorily required to show a large message on the screen when the app is opened at least once in a while. The message should be similar to the warnings on cigarette packs. It should warn the readers that the content labelled as ‘forwarded’ should not be blindly relied on as it might lack credibility. Other social media companies should follow suit by labelling unauthentic content in such manner as to indicate to the viewers that they should not take it at face value and giving the large message when one opens the app.

An interesting approach to curb hate speech that has been suggested is to bring it within the ambit of terrorism.[26] This approach seems workable when one looks at the widely used definition of terrorism, “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. Therefore, the majoritarian violence caused by hate speech directed against minorities should be included in the agenda of countering terrorism.[27] Another approach can be to empower the Election Commission of India to curb the menace of hate speech. It makes all the more sense in the polarised political conditions where the government regulations cannot be objectively and uniformly enforced. A neutral institution can only do this, and the Election Commission seems to be the right choice as it is already empowered to regulate the freedom the speech and expression during elections. The Supreme Court entertained this approach and requested the Law Commission to make recommendations to the Parliament in this regard.[28]


Conclusion

Tolerance and non-violence are some of the core values of the Indian society. They are deeply embedded in the rich culture and history of India. It is unfortunate that the dreaded crime of lynching has received approval, whether tacit or overt, of local actors. While the intimidatory and hateful content on social media wrenches the hearts of general users, it makes the targeted people fear for their lives. Therefore, implementing the required solutions to the hate speech menace and ensuring the safe and proper use of social media is in the best interests of the country.

[1] Chinmayi Arun, On WhatsApp, Rumours, and Lynchings, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. LIV No. 6 (2019). [2] Ibid. [3] Maya Mirchandani, Digital Hatred, Real Violence: Majoritarian Radicalisation And Social Media In India, Observer Research Foundation Occasional Papers, 2018, available at https://www.orfonline.org/research/43665-digital-hatred-real-violence-majoritarian-radicalisation-and-social-media-in-india/#_ednref33 (Last accessed on 17/5/2020). [4] Maya Mirchandani, Encouraging Counter-Speech By Mapping The Contours Of Hate Speech On Facebook In India, Observer Research Foundation Issue Briefs And Special Reports, 2018, available at https://www.orfonline.org/research/encouraging-counter-speech-by-mapping-the-contours-of-hate-speech-on-facebook-in-india/#_ednref11 (Last accessed on 17/5/2020). [5] Supra Note 4. [6] Supra Note 1. [7] Hannah Ellis-Petersen, Inside Delhi: beaten, lynched and burnt alive, The Guardian, 1 March, 2020 available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/01/india-delhi-after-hindu-mob-riot-religious-hatred-nationalists (Last accessed on 17/5/2020). [8] Supra note 3. [9] Id. [10] Deep Mukherjee, Rajsamand chargesheet: ‘Love jihad’ cover for Shambulal Regar ties with ‘Hindu sister’, The Indian Express, 15 January, 2018. [11] Ibid. [12] The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 19(1)(a). [13] The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 19(2). [14] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sections 153A, 505. [15] See Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India, AIR 2014 SC 1591. [16] Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, AIR 2015 SC 1523. [17] Ibid. [18] Supra note 15 [19] Law Commission of India, Hate Speech, Report No. 267 (March 2017). [20] Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu, Till New 'Law', Whether Lynching Go Unpunished? , LiveLaw, 24 April 2020, available at https://www.livelaw.in/columns/till-new-law-whether-lynching-go-unpunished-155697 (Last accessed on 17/5/2020). [21] Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sections 34(Common Intention), 120A(Criminal Conspiracy), 141(Unlawful Assembly), 149(Common Object), 302(Murder), 304(Cupable Homicide), 307(Attempt to murder), 323(Hurt), 325(Grievous hurt). [22] Editorial, Misdiagnosis of the Lynching Problem, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. LIV No. 34 (2019). [23] Ibid. [24] Aditi Singh, Rajasthan Court acquits all accused persons in Pehlu Khan lynching case [Read Judgment], Bar & Bench, 15 August, 2019, available at https://www.barandbench.com/news/rajasthan-court-acquits-all-accused-persons-in-pehlu-khan-lynching-case-read-judgment (Last accessed on 17/5/2020). [25] Id. [26] Supra note 3. [27] Ibid. [28] Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India, AIR 2014 SC 1591.

p2.png

Disclaimer Policy:

Nyayshastram shall reserve certain exclusive rights. No member of the Advisory & Editorial Board can be contacted without prior permission from the Managerial Board.

The website may offer users to read, react or comment to express their opinions on the individual blog posts, which may be open to the public generally. By virtue of entering this website, the users acknowledge that all the content is user content and while reacting to it they agree to comply with the rules and restrictions on user content. Nyayshastram does not subscribe to any of the views expressed by such users/authors.

© Nyayshastram 2020

All rights reserved

Designed By Palvinder Mahal