Social media flayed at National Integration Meet

New Delhi, Sep 23 (IANS) The role of social media in fanning communal violence was the focus of many speeches delivered Monday here at the National Integration Council meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The prime minister broached the issue in his inaugural address, and said there was need to prevent the misuse of social media by elements looking to foment trouble.

After the meet, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the government wanted to ban social media but it was not easy.

"Northeast chief ministers spoke about it. We are eager to ban it but it is not easy," Shinde told reporters.

Referring to the recent communal violence in Muzaffarnagar district of Uttar Pradesh that left 48 dead, the prime minister said there were cases in which fake videos were circulated, causing deeper divides between communities.

He said social media could be used to cement bonds.

"Social media provides the opportunity to state one's views freely, and there is need to maintain this. But it is also important that we do not allow people wanting to create trouble to misuse it," the prime minister said.

He also referred to the misuse of social media last year, which led to many people from the northeastern states being forced to flee their homes and jobs in south India.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma were among those who raised concerns over the impact of social media.

Yadav said there was no effective mechanism at present to stop the spread of hatred-inducing material on social media.

"Service providers should have the capacity to identify people who send such material," he said.

Hooda said the central government could take steps for the control of social media.

"It has often been seen that social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter etc become media used in spreading propaganda through video clippings and messages of incidents with communal overtones," he said.

Chavan said that the challenge posed by the misuse of cyberspace and mobile technology had to be carefully addressed, without impinging upon the freedom of expression.

"While there is a procedure in place to block social networking sites, it would require some innovation and coordination with service providers to identify and block circulation of provocative messages over mobile phones," he said.

Chavan suggested setting up a social media laboratory under the state intelligence departments to monitor posts likely to endanger communal harmony.

He also suggested that mechanisms should be evolved to mobilise non-government organisations, religious leaders and eminent citizens to counter provocative posts.

Gogoi said that mischievous elements and vested interests can spread rumours and hate speeches within a short span of time, through social media networking sites and mobile phones.

He said there was need to more effectively regulate use of social networking technology and radio and TV and other such means of communication.

Gogoi said intelligence agencies should have effective cyber-patrolling capacities.

Sangma said social media was popular, but the very popularity also raised serious risks and threats, and its misuse should be prevented. He said there have been instances of social media being used by mischievous elements to spread rumours.

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