Chat group admins impose self-censor

Administrators of several online chat groups in Kerala blocked members from posting messages as the Supreme Court pronounced its judgement in the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi land dispute case on Saturday.

The restrictions imposed in the morning continued through the better part of the day. The police had warned on Saturday that they would track and prosecute any attempt to spread hate speech online.

Lesson learnt

A senior official said the law enforcement agency had learned a harsh lesson in April last when a set of persons tied to a radical organisation used networking tools to muster their ranks to organise a flash hartal. The online mobilisers had cleverly tapped into the groundswell of revulsion over the rape-murder of a minor in Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir to unleash violence in Kerala.

A subsequent Crime Branch investigation revealed that ‘administrators’, acting as proxies for a radical outfit, had relayed their orders to cadres through chat groups that mimicked a martial pecking order with access to communication restricted by hierarchical ranking.

Later in November, individual political organisations had used chat groups and social media accounts to muster cadres to create trouble in Sabarimala. Both instances of misuse of social media for disruption had resulted in scores of arrests.

The police, it seemed, have some gained technological expertise via Cyberdome to infiltrate such groups using social engineering tactics and software tools. It had led to the quick arrest of two persons on online hate speech charges in Kochi.

A senior officer said the police had not attempted to gag free speech or fair criticism. However, it had monitored mainstream and social media to pre-empt efforts to undermine peace. By evening, groups lifted the curbs and conversations appeared to revert to normal.


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