Nuh violence and social media regulation

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has confirmed that five people, including two police officers, lost their lives in the Nuh clashes. Curfew was clamped in Nuh and mobile internet services have been suspended in the district. Clashes have also prompted authorities in neighbouring Gurugram to take measures to prevent any possible communal flare-up. Meanwhile, state Home Minister Anil Vij too confirms that it was the social media posts that sparked off violence. This was established by the three-member committee set up by the government to monitor social media posts. Nuh, formerly known as Mewat, is Haryana’s only district with around 79 per cent of the population consisting of Muslims. Alleged stone-pelting on a religious procession in Nuh reportedly triggered tensions, which later spread to neighbouring Gurugram. If one has to believe the Lutyan’s media, tension did prevail in Nuh, with social media activists reporting how the district’s majority of Muslims suppressing the minority Hindus. And, that got ignited when the Hindus’ procession was attacked, giving suspicion of the majority Muslim hand.

The state home minister too suggested that the incident indeed was pre-planned. He said clashes in Nuh did not appear to have happened all of a sudden. “The level of violence that took place and also occurred at different points, the way stones were collected, the way weapons were brandished, the way shots were fired, it does not appear to have happened all of a sudden,” he said. However, in the same breath, he said that both the communities live peacefully in Nuh, but somebody who wanted to disturb peace in the state engineered or masterminded this incident. “I don’t want to immediately reach any conclusion as my government’s primary objective is to bring the situation under control and maintain peace,” he made it clear.  Actions of Vij, who took control of the situation by mobilizing forces from neighbouring Palwal, Faridabad, Gurgaon, Jhajjar and Rewari districts in a bid to check the violence from spreading to new areas, are commendable. Yet, the damage has happened in Gurgaon where an Imam was allegedly killed and others were attacked at an under-construction mosque, no sooner the social media gone viral over the Nuh violence.  Unlike in Manipur, the Haryana government appears to have acted promptly and decisively as it filed first information reports against as many as 44 persons allegedly involved in fuelling the violence in Nuh, besides arresting another 70 people.

It is no denying fact that social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) were blamed or accused of being misused by some fundamental groups. That raises a pertinent question: Does social media need to be more regulated? Social media indeed provides a platform for individuals to express their opinions and ideas freely, and regulating it would limit this freedom. While some may argue that regulating social media would prevent harmful content from being shared, it is important to remember that censorship is a slippery issue. And, the information technology rules require social media and other intermediaries to observe due diligence by making reasonable efforts to cause their users not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information which is (a) harmful to children (b) infringes on trademark, copyright, patent or such. In India, one of the rules that govern social media is the recently-introduced Information Technology Act. The principal law established a legal foundation for electronic governance and governs all areas of electronic communication, including social media. Many experts are of the firm opinion that constant monitoring of social media platforms helps understand how a media’s consumers are behaving. And several state governments taking the initiatives like directing or setting up separate social media monitoring units in their state police departments is a welcome move as it would help, especially in situations like communal clashes, to identify the culprits. This is in the wake of social media becoming an integral part of people’s daily lives. But, its popularity also multiplied concerns over the impact it will have on the society. Some people argue that social media should be regulated to prevent harm, while others believe that regulation would limit free speech and innovation. Although, it can be argued either way, all peace-loving and law-abiding people should either restrain themselves from comments which may whip up communal tensions, or else allow governments to set up monitoring bodies. And, the social media platform promoters too should abide by the laws that exist in the countries they operate. There should be no two opinions on this count!