Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> Yousuf Saeed: How to start a riot out of Facebook (Kafila.org)
Patrice Riemens on Mon, 13 Aug 2012 13:38:52 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Yousuf Saeed: How to start a riot out of Facebook (Kafila.org)

Original to:

bwo Sarai Reader List/ author

How to start a riot out of Facebook
Yousuf Saeed

I am utterly shocked and pained to read about the violent rally that many
Muslims took out at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on 11 August 2012 in protest
against the recent communal carnage in Assam and Burma. More than the
accidental death of two men and 50 injured in yesterday?s protest, what
alarmed me was the public anger targeted on the media for ?not reporting
about the violence against Muslims in Assam and Myanmar?. Several vans of
TV channels and their equipment were smashed or burnt besides a number of
police vehicles destroyed. Of course, the authorities are still probing as
to who really began the violence in an otherwise peaceful rally (and we
are open to the results of such a probe). But my worst fear came true with
this assertion of one of the protesters in a newspaper report: ?Why is the
media not covering Burma and Assam? We learnt about the incidents from
videos posted on the Internet.? This seems to be a very disturbing
statement on various accounts. Of course, the media can sometimes be
biased, and the Muslims do feel victimised by it all the time. But are the
random videos and images posted on the Internet any less biased or

Some of you may have recently noticed a number of gory and blood-soaked
images being forwarded and shared on various social networking sites like
Facebook and Twitter that claim to show the dead bodies of ?20,000 Muslims
butchered in Burma in the hands of Buddhists? along with the assertion
that the world?s media is silent about the plight of Muslims in Burma and
so on. Most of those images are really disturbing, capable of making
anyone?s blood boil. Some show mounds of rotting dead bodies and a few
Buddhist monks standing near them. Some even looked digitally tempered
with to enhance their anti-Muslim violence. But there was no sign of where
these images were sourced from. A couple of them even had Jama?t-e Islami,
Pakistan, stamped on them. But if, as the people posting them claim, the
world?s media is silent about the Muslim carnage in Burma, how did these
images and the disturbing news come from Burma in the first place? Where
did they find them before posting? I asked this question to many friends
sharing these images and they didn?t have a clue. They simply believed in
what they saw. In fact, from the Internet these pictures were picked up by
many Urdu newspapers from Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi and printed with
inflammatory titles and headlines. Many new caricatures and info-graphics
started appearing on Facebook ridiculing the ?peaceful? image of Buddhists
or the ?silence? of Burmese leader Aung Suu Kyi on the carnage of Rohingya
Muslims and so on.

Many of us were sceptical of these images and knew something was wrong.
Some images do show the facial features of the victims to be Mongoloid,
but that doesn?t prove they are from Burma. In any case, most Rohingya
Muslims are not clearly Mongoloid ? some look like Bangladeshi. With some
investigation it was revealed that almost none of the gory images titled
?Muslim slaughter in Burma? were actually from Burma. They came from
different sources, mostly showing people killed in natural disasters in
China, Thailand and even self-immolation attempts by Tibetans. The best
investigation of these fake pictures was made by Faraz Ahmed in a blog of
the Express Tribune newspaper from Pakistan (?Social media is lying to you
about Burma?s Muslim ?cleansing??), where he busted the myth about 3-4 of
the most circulated of such images, tracing their origins in China,
Thailand and Tibet. One image actually shows Buddhist monks cremating
thousands of people killed in a Chinese earthquake. In fact, a few images
of dead bodies or people escaping from violent situations are clearly from
places like Syria or Africa. The only authentic images of the affected
Rohingya Muslims are those showing them in the boats waiting to enter
Bangladesh. Nevertheless, many of our Muslim friends in India, Pakistan
and other places continued to post and share such fake and fabricated
images, adding more and more vitriolic comments on them to spread hatred
against Buddists. I and a few friends even tried to bust these postings by
warning them about the fake pictures, but our efforts had little impact.

I must clarify that I am not denying the killing and persecution of
Muslims in Burma. I did some research as to what exactly happened and how
many Muslims were really affected. Contrary to the popular belief that the
world?s media and human rights fraternity is silent about Burma?s Muslim
carnage, I did find a lot of detailed reporting and analysis of the human
rights violation (including from Al Jazeera, BBC and New York Times,
though very little from India), which ironically very few protesting
Muslims may have read. The most comprehensive report on this has been
brought out in August 2012 by the American organisation, Human Rights
Watch, titled, ?The Government Could Have Stopped This ? Sectarian
Violence and Ensuing Abuses in Burma?s Arakan State? (.pdf here). This
57-page report states that it was communal violence between Rohingya
Muslims and ethnic Arakan Buddhists which took the life of 78 people
(according to government figures) ? a number that includes both
communities. Many villages of both communities were torched and over
100,000 people were displaced from their homes. But there is clearly no
mention of 20,000 or more Muslims butchered as claimed by many on

Of course, none of the protesters read these detailed and balanced
reports. For them the fake pictures of blood and gore were provocative
enough to come to the streets. This is not the first time that social
networking has been used to a large extent to bring people on the streets.
We have seen more revolutionary uses of Facebook in the case of
overthrowing of regimes in Egypt and other Arab countries. But to start a
communal riot using visual rumours is not the most desirable uses of the
Internet. If you study social networking sites deeply, especially if you
have a wide range of ?friends? including the possible rumour-mongers, you
may find postings that are deliberately trying to provoke in one way or
the other. Just yesterday I found on Facebook a photo showing cut-up and
mutilated body parts of two dead women lying in a forest, with a caption
saying ?Wake-up Hindus. These are bodies of Hindu girls who were raped and
killed by Mullahs?. Of course, this image has been ?liked? and shared by
thousands of people throwing choicest of abuses on Muslims. But no one
tried to reason out that there is no proof that the picture actually shows
dead Hindu girls ? there is not even any indication of where and when this
picture was taken. But for a new generation of net-savvy youngsters (some
of whom may have come to Mumbai?s streets yesterday), simply seeing on
Facebook is believing. I shudder to think that such rabble-rousing use of
the Internet might increase especially when some people realise that such
an action can have practical repercussions. We have seen that in almost
all communal riots, people deliberately initiated nasty rumours just to
?have some fun?. But in the past, rumours spread in localised areas by
word of mouth, whereas today it is possible to spread hate-filled messages
over large areas of the world within seconds. The spread of Burma?s fake
images has even allowed the Tehreek-e Taliban of Pakistan to issue a
threat to Burmese people, and it needs to be taken seriously.

We don?t know if there is a ready solution to this menace. Censorship of
the Internet as suggested by some (especially in the Indian government) is
clearly not the answer since that may suppress even some of the harmless
content. But what is definitely required is advocacy amongst net-users on
how to read online content more critically. Unlike in the more
conventional media such as newspapers, TV or radio, its possible today for
anyone to ?track-back? any content posted on the Internet to see where it
originated from. For instance Google?s reverse image search allows you
track who may have originally posted a certain image and who manipulated
it later. Just a few days ago an Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung
published a photo showing a Syrian couple with a baby escaping from a
bombed building. Later, it turned out that they had cut-out the couple and
the baby from an earlier photo and morphed it on the image of a ruined
building, just for the effect! Hence, media manipulation by big and small
players is here to stay. The only way one can avert possible riots and
violent mobbing is to stop believing (and forwarding) everything that is
posted online and investigate how true a picture is, and most importantly,
where it came from.

(Yousuf Saeed is a Delhi-based independent filmmaker and author, working
on themes of peace and shared cultural traditions in south Asia.)

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org