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Negative Trends Flourishing On Twitter – OpEd

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It would not be an exaggeration to say that the world is in the throes of social media. China has the largest number of Internet users in the world, followed by India and Pakistan in South Asia. According to an estimate, the number of Internet users in Pakistan is about 54% of the total population of the country (according to the data of 2021). Similarly, the number of Pakistanis using social media in January 2021 was 46 million which has now increased to 60 million. Social media platforms have the highest number of Facebook users. This is followed by YouTube, Twitter and other channels.

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Social media is a social force that make the young generation conscious, empowered and powerful, but the positive effect of this technology is rarely seen in our society. However, its negative effects are very noticeable. Islamophobia is actually a wave of exaggerated fear, hatred and enmity towards Islam and Muslims created under the influence of negative and stereotypes which result in prejudice and discrimination against Muslims. Social media especially Twitter has emerged as a strong platform in today’s society for this negative trend to flourish, where Muslims are being targeted without fear or favor. Although it is being condemned from many quarters, new incidents are emerging in the name of freedom of expression. From leading figures to ordinary people are targeted just by name. Although social media itself takes a number of steps to prevent the transmission of any kind of offensive and hateful messages, there are similar laws in place around the world, but still harassment against Muslims persists. 

Back in December 2017, Twitter came out with its new rules and re-sketched its old policies towards anti-Muslim hatred and how to combat the ongoing frustration against Muslims around the world. But is Twitter really trying to battle hatred on its platform? The answer it seems is no. Despite all the good talk, the action is missing. 

Ever since the incident of Basti Hazrat Nizamuddin Markaz in Delhi came to light, anti-Muslim elements have been openly poisoning on Twitter and under the pretext of Tablighi Jamaat, Indian Muslims are targeting and labeling them as radicals. Moreover, Leading wrestler and international medalist Babita Phugat, follower of BJP, blamed Muslims for the spread of corona virus in India and tweeted an insulting hashtag for Muslims. He said that Muslims are a bigger problem for India than the virus. The trend spread like wildfire, Twitter despite calls for action against Babita failed to tackle the situation. 

If there was anyone in India who was most disturbed by the lockout, that was the working class, they had to wait for two meals a day with the help of others to satisfy their hunger. Working class and daily wage earners earn a living, so living in a foreign country without working is a torment for them, which is why thousands of workers came down and set out on foot for their homeland and many people died on the way. Hundreds of workers gathered on the spot but the Bandra incident was given a religious color on social media as a mosque was spotted in Jim Ghafir, accused of Delhi violence and BJP leader Kapil Mishra tweeted several questions including “Why the crowd in front of the mosque?” And Rajat Sharma, a well-known journalist, also expressed concern over the crowd outside the mosque, meaning that just standing in front of the mosque made them not seen as laborers but as evil elements.

According to Twitter’s “Hateful conduct policy” a user may be asked to take down his/her tweet with a warning or the account may be suspended if found promoting violence against a particular community or directly attacking or threatening other people. But, surprisingly, in these cases nothing of that sort has happened.

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Going by its policies, Twitter reserves the right to remove verified badge or the blue tick from an account at any time, without any prior notice. As clearly mentioned by Twitter, one of the many reasons why one can lose his/her verified status is by involving in promoting hatred or violence against, or directly attacking or other people on the basis of religious affiliation. As a communication tool Twitter is very powerful. But just like Facebook is being used to spread hatred across the world, Twitter too is being used to sow discord in countries and communities. But even in the face of clear hate speech, it seems that Twitter has decided to put its puny profit motives over what would be right way to deal with hatred that its users are spreading. 

*Sehrish Khan is a freelancer and media activist. She writes on political developments and security issues with special focus on South Asia and the region.

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