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Here’s How Digital Platforms Proliferate Anti-Muslim Hate

COVID-related Islamophobic content proliferated across digital platforms. | Picture: Media Diversity Institute

A new study documents an exponential rise in hate on digital platforms in India since BJP came to power in 2014. 

Snobar | TwoCircles.net  

NEW DELHI — Digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Reddit, and GitHub have hastened the proliferation of anti-Muslim hate in India that forms the architecture of Hindutva, a new study by the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE), Massey University, New Zealand has revealed. 

As online hate is on the rise against Muslims in India, a CARE White Paper Series has revealed the experiences of Muslims on social media.

Since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 and the subsequent electoral victory of BJP in 2019, the hate on digital platforms in India and in the Indian diaspora has proliferated exponentially, the study said. 

The centre conducted a survey of 1,056 Muslims in India, to examine the exposure to digital hate among Muslims.

According to the study, the anti-Muslim hate on digital platforms reflects the broader political ideology of Hindutva that is rooted in the othering of Muslims. “The organizing logic of a monolithic state (Rashtra), one people (jati), and a monolithic culture (Sanskriti) forms the ideological apparatus of Hindutva,” the study noted. 

The study noted that the narratives of hate are often centred on specific events, policy decisions made by the ruling BJP, and dissenting responses to Hindutva. 

The study noted that the content of digital hate driven by Hindutva has been directed at India’s religious minorities, Muslims and Christians, as well as oppressed caste communities (Dalits). Of particular significance are the extreme forms of hate that have been directed at Muslims, including calls for genocide issued by Hindutva ideologues.

The findings offer a descriptive framework for understanding the experiences of digital hate among Muslims in India, exploring the implications of the exposure to digital hate, and suggesting strategies for countering the hate.

Hindutva adopts white supremacist symbols against Muslims
The Hindutva adoption of the white supremacist symbol Pepe the Frog depicts the connections and flows between the different discursive registers of hate, drawn together in their anti-Muslim ideology, the study said. 

From the discursive architectures of 4chan to white supremacist Twitter spaces to the Hindutva architecture, Pepe the Frog has gone through multiple transformations rooted in Islamophobic hate, it noted. “Pepe the Frog is a torturing agent, coloured saffron, wearing a black uniform, a cap adorned with the “Om” symbol and a saffron armband with writing in Sanskrit”. 

Online hate against Muslims during anti-CAA protests
In 2019, the BJP-led central government introduced the National Register for Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which were widely criticized by civil society as attacks on the citizenship rights of Muslims. 

According to the study, the discourses around the NRC and the CAA mobilized anti-immigrant sentiments, with several mainstream Hindutva politicians referring to the citizenship acts as mechanisms to filter out illegal Muslim migrants. 

The discourse of the Muslim migrant, and particularly the illegal Muslim migrant, has proliferated on digital platforms. 

“CoronaJihad”, “CoronaTerrorism” and CoronaBombsTablighi” hashtags on Twitter
The study found out that in March 2020 as the COVID-19 cases started appearing in India, “COVID-related Islamophobic content proliferated across digital platforms.”

The #CoronoJihad narrative projected the Muslim as a terrorist attacking the Hindu community with the COVID-19 bomb, it said. 

The stigmatization and blaming of Muslims as super-spreaders based on misinformation resulted in some neighbourhoods attacking and banning Muslims and some healthcare organizations denying treatments to Muslims.

Digital content blames Muslims for the pandemic
According to the study, 64% of the respondents in the survey reported coming across content on digital platforms that blamed Muslims for the pandemic. 

“20.5% of the participants somewhat agreed, 21.5% of the participants mostly agreed, and 22% of the participants strongly agreed with the statement “I have come across content on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp that blames Muslims, suggesting that they are responsible for the spreading of the pandemic,” it said. 

Digital hate in the face of #lovejihad
According to the study, the disinformation portraying Muslims as conspirators plays out in content that projects Muslims as targeting Hindu women for conversion through romance.

“The hashtag LoveJihaad is part of a broader global Islamophobic digital infrastructure that flows from far-right, white supremacist, anti-immigrant spaces in Europe to the Islamophobic discursive space in Myanmar, and the anti-Muslim hate in India”, the study said. 

Sexually violent digital content targeting Muslim women
The threats of sexual violence targeting women are carried out alongside dehumanizing content depicting Muslims as animals, the study commented. 

According to the study, 55.3% of the participants agree with the statement, “I have come across content on Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp that compare Muslims to pigs and dogs.”

“16% of the participants indicated they somewhat agreed, 20.5% of the participants stated they mostly agreed, and 18.8% of the participants stated they strongly agreed with the statement,” it said. 

Snobar is an intern with TwoCircles.net. She tweets at @Snobar19