Hate Propaganda UnLtd

26 Oct,2021



By Ranjona Banerji


Ranjona BanerjiFor years, India’s TV channels that pretend to be “news” channels have fomented Indo-Pak and Hindu-Muslim hatred, in order to please a particular “political” ideology and possibly because the anchors and their owners genuinely wanted to get society roiling. The effects have been and are dangerous and violent. As we saw after India lost a cricket match to Pakistan on Sunday. Rumours of Muslims letting off fireworks began, Indian cricketer Mohammed Shami faced vicious trolling… we have seen it before but that certainly does not make it tolerable.


India’s cricketers took hours to respond in support of their teammate and colleague. Virendra Sehwag first propagated the rumour about the fireworks and the next day tweeted his support for Shami. A neat “watch me astride two horses but everyone knows I love the first horse” more trick.


While all this happened, social media giant Facebook was involved in its own drama worldwide.


Whistle-blowers revealed once again how Facebook helps promote right wing hatred and how its AI, its algorithms, are weak when it comes to tracking hatred and dangerous behaviour.



India is particularly vulnerable to Facebook’s “style”:



The following extract from The Washington Post explains just how dire the situation is. We see the results around us all the time – let us never forget that Facebook also owns WhatsApp – and yet somehow, we find it acceptable.


“In February 2019, not long before India’s general election, a pair of Facebook employees set up a dummy account to better understand the experience of a new user in the company’s largest market. They made a profile of a 21-year-old woman, a resident of North India, and began to track what Facebook showed her.


At first, her feed filled with soft-core porn and other, more harmless, fare. Then violence flared in Kashmir, the site of a long-running territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, campaigning for reelection as a nationalist strongman, unleashed retaliatory airstrikes that India claimed hit a terrorist training camp.


Soon, without any direction from the user, the Facebook account was flooded with pro-Modi propaganda and anti-Muslim hate speech. “300 dogs died now say long live India, death to Pakistan,” one post said, over a background of laughing emoji faces. “These are pakistani dogs,” said the translated caption of one photo of dead bodies lined-up on stretchers, hosted in the News Feed.


An internal Facebook memo, reviewed by The Washington Post, called the dummy account test an “integrity nightmare” that underscored the vast difference between the experience of Facebook in India and what U.S. users typically encounter. One Facebook worker noted the staggering number of dead bodies.”

From: https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/10/24/india-facebook-misinformation-hate-speech/


Speaking to a UK Parliamentary committee, Frances Haugen, who released Facebook’s internal documents to the world, made the interesting point that much of Facebook can be a pleasant experience for users. It is the remaining 20 or 30 per cent of hateful, violent and abusive content that Facebook’s algorithms either encourage – as according to the documentary The Social Dilemma – or are unable to monitor and control.


Facebook is part of the problem. It is not the problem. The problem is the rampaging extent of hateful propaganda spread by governments, politicians and the mainstream media. The problem is the constant subversion of democracy by its so-called upholders. In India, WhatsApp is the medium. The perpetrators and controllers are far worse and they know that their followers and victims are remarkably stupid and malleable.


Consider for instance the number of industrialists, former civil servants and illustrious members of civil society who before the India-Pakistan match began put out this “joke” about how Pakistan won the toss and kept the coin to bolster its economy. How rich is this, coming from India whose economy is in a right royal mess thanks to a government that these parrot-tweeters so love and support. And how daft does this “joke” sound after India lost the match.


A demonstration of India’s democratic levels came with one more advertisement, for a product which tried to broaden its commercial appeal by reaching ignored customers. Fem, a face bleach which in itself many might consider regressive since it pushes the “fair is beautiful” narrative, tried to use the festival of Karva Chauth (the North Indian custom of fasting for your husband’s good health also considered regressive) to focus on same-sex couples. In this case, lesbians.


As expected, some member of the BJP had hysterics and Dabur, the owner of Fem, took the ad down.


If the media is the message, the vicious rightwing does the dictation.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal


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