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Exploitation Of Social Media.

India, July 25 -- It is no surprise that the J&K government has clamped down on local news outlets in a bid to maintain law and order after the public unrest over the killing of Burhan Wani, a commander with the militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, by security forces last fortnight in an encounter.

Over and above the media-blackout, with cable networks taken off air, the suspension of internet and also all cellular services would have come as a rude shock to the people of Kashmir who now find themselves forced by the Indian state into 'a Stone Age information vacuum'.

There are many who are likening this to the censoring of the press by Indira Gandhi during the Emergency days. The 'rebellion of the intelligentsia' is the toughest opposition to cope up with for any government, and the 'policy of intolerance' the present dispensation at the centre stands accused of could well be a throwback to that infamous period.

But would it be right to blame the government for the press-gag in Kashmir and treat it as something akin to the blot on the face of Independent India?

The present Kashmir imbroglio has its genesis in the socio-political developments of 1947; with the confusion being confounded by the varied political perceptions on the part of the dramatis personae of the subcontinental political scene and their impact on the psyche and perception of the people of Kashmir, it has snowballed into an 'irresolvable' issue.

The valley that was already simmering with discontent over its prolonged occupation by Indian army and Para-military forces, not to mention the persistent imposition of dreaded AFSPA that empowers the military with enormous powers in Kashmir, has now to contend with the 'super stardom' and eventually the 'martyrship' of a youngster who ultimately became the poster boy of militancy in the strife-torn state.

Eulogized as a youth icon, it is however a matter of consternation that the young lad could so effectively use the social media to further the cause of extremism in Kashmir. Ironically, it is claimed that Burhan never fired a single shot from his rifle, even though he posted pictures of himself on the internet holding assault rifles.

Yet he could galvanize a whole brigade of local youths and entice them into turning rebels for a cause that was never in their best interests. Encouraging young men of Kashmir to kill Indian soldiers from behind the safety of his Facebook account, Burhan Wani started a virtual social media blitzkrieg.

It was only coincidence that a Burhan could capitalize against the festering dissent of the locals and make the most of the Facebook to build up sympathy for the insurgents. He, as is the case with many other misguided youth in the valley, could have been motivated by a doctrinaire preacher.

Where one would immediately think of the various social media sites as another 'compromised' avenue of terror advocacy, attention should be drawn to the fact that it is not so much the exploitation of the social media as the frenzy shown by the youth in the valley to instantly identify themselves with the 'struggle' by separatist groups to seek 'independence' from India.

The social media has been used effectively in the past to mobilize public support by various activists for their campaigns. The crusade against corruption in India spearheaded by Anna Hazare was one such instance. The buzz on social networking sites as well as the sustained media attention, made the movement appear larger than what it really was.

With a loyal base of over a million fans on Facebook and Twitter supporting India's fight against corruption, it was effectively demonstrated that through smart use of the social media the extent of a campaign going viral was phenomenal.

It therefore comes as no surprise that radical groups use popular social media to recruit sympathizers. It is also observed that such groups heavily rely on websites, apps and content-sharing sites as well.

Hence, sooner or later it was to be expected that the social media would play a decisive role in terror propaganda with militant outfits falling upon different methods to woo fresh blood for their organizations in India. Burhan Wani's may well have been the 'pioneering efforts'.

More importantly, with young people tending to trust the information they read or hear on social network or micro-blogging sites, it is rightly to be concluded that "the perceived trustworthiness of the platforms can affect a person's evaluations of posts or messages from radical groups, making them seem more valid and convincing."

It is really unfortunate that a free social networking website, and a popular one at that, that allows registered users to create profiles, upload photos and videos and more importantly, send messages and keep in touch with friends, family and associates, is being abused so maliciously!

We are a nation married to the mobile with most Indians embracing the internet on their cell phones. This easy accessibility has however come with its own costs. The mobiles, as has been seen lately, have become handy tools for extremists to influence their supporters.

Under these circumstances, it would be apt to have an internet blackout in the state from the security point of view. Without access to the services through wired or wireless devices, it could be ensured that militants would no longer be able to exploit mob emotions.

It has to be accepted that the social media campaign has definitely had an outreach among a section of Kashmiri Muslim youth. The trend of recruitment of Kashmir youths, especially educated youngsters, in militant ranks is a 'new tragedy' for the state divided by violent conflict.

All said and done; Kashmir does not need a youth icon who endorses militancy in the state, but one who encourages youth to pick up books and not guns.

If in the last five years or so, a good number of Kashmiri youth have shown their preference to join the civil services in the country, it is a definite sign that there is an ardent desire shown by the youngsters to shun violence and take up a regimented and peaceful life.

Peace has to overtake the violence in the valley, and one day it will!

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 25, 2016
Previous Article:Dignity, Diversity And Democracy.
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