Report: Hindutva Groups Weaponize Facebook Community Pages Against Muslims and Sikhs

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(pic via Forbes)

This report is compiled with the help of secular Indian activists who wish to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisal from right-wing extremists within their expatriate communities, and details the way in which Hindutva groups and individuals are weaponizing expatriate community pages on Facebook and Twitter to spread and amplify hate against Muslims and Sikhs, and in violation of both company’s user rules.

This report aligns with research conducted by The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN), which found that “explicitly dehumanizing language (‘invaders,’ ‘disease,’ ‘savages’) directed at Muslims is frequently not detected by Facebook’s and Twitter’s tools.”

Most of the vilification, incitement to violence and glorification of genocide we observed in comment threads within ‘echo chamber’ environments were undetected by auto-detection frameworks of Facebook and Twitter. This is a common constraint of auto-detection frameworks.

While recent physical attacks by Hindutva thugs against Muslims and Sikhs living in Australia and Canada have attracted some mainstream media attention, the online abuse, harassment and threats that these same migrants are subjected to on a daily basis remain ignored by Facebook.

This report aims to create public awareness and then put pressure on these social media companies to act.

The first part of the problem is that Western governments are asleep at the switch when it comes to identifying and quantifying the threat Hindutva or Hindu nationalism poses democracy and religious minorities, as I noted here recently for TRT World.

In other words, governments and therefore social media companies aren’t looking for a problem they currently don’t believe exists — but a search of Indian expatriate community pages on Facebook indeed reveals a quantifiable crisis, at least in terms of the safety and well being of Indian Muslim and Sikh migrants.

Hindutva groups and individuals have become increasingly active on Facebook community pages that have large followings, like this:

and like this:

On this pages, Hindutva groups and individuals swarm in numbers, posting anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh hatred, particularly content that accuses both religious minorities of being supportive of terrorism or anti-nationalist forces or spreaders of disease i.e. the COVID-19 virus.

They also scour the Internet for articles that portray Muslims and Sikhs in a negative light, and then post them to these community pages:

Many others, however, deploy their hatred in a more direct way, calling on Hindu Indians to “fight back [against] these brainwashed scums of society,” referring specifically to Muslims.

With India’s ruling party — BJP — falsely portraying the farmers protest movement in India to be a part of Sikh separatist or anti-nationalist plot, vitriol against Sikhs and Muslims has become measurably more violent.

Here a member of the Regional Advisory Council at the Victorian Multicultural Commission urges his followers for a repeat of the 1984 Sikh genocide, which left upwards of 5,000 Sikhs hacked, burnt and shot to death.

Other pages and accounts falsely claim the ongoing farmers protest to be a “joint venture of China and Pakistan.”

Then there’s the fake story element, in which manufactured and staged photos or videos are designed to go viral on social media, where many fake news stories about Muslims and Sikhs are then picked up and amplified by right wing Indian news media outlets, like this:

While the “Hindutva hate factory” has been well documented in a few mainstream Indian news publications, as has the way in which this hate has translated into surging hate crimes against religious minorities within India, less attention, however, has been given to the way it’s contaminating social media community pages within the Indian diaspora, and producing violence against Muslims and Sikhs.

“For the first time in Australia we are witnessing tensions within Indian community groups, with one group attacking another because they demanded justice from the Indian government,” Deepak Joshi, an executive with The Humanism Project, a secular Indian expatriate advisory group in Australia, told me recently.

“In the past year or so we have witnessed several instances of online hate and threats of violence against those who criticise the Modi Government and against Muslims in particular in Australia, but this hate has been particularly directed against the Sikhs and social media since the farmers movement began.”

Social media companies must do more to sanction and ban Hindutva groups and individuals that target Muslim and Sikh migrants with dehumanizing language.

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Columnist for Middle East Eye. Host of Channel The Rage. Activist against Islamophobia. Read more about CJ here: www.patreon.com/cjwerleman