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Are Facebook and YouTube Fomenting Violence in Kashmir?

Kashmir troops dwith citizen

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While Facebook may be peddling its vanilla morals to the rest of the world with its ban on aureolae and pot leaves, more subversive stuff may be slipping through the net. An AP report highlights the rise of the use of social networks such as Facebook and YouTube as tools for the cause by Kashmiri resistance fighters.

Delhi-based writer Shuddhabrata Sengupta
sees this move as inevitable. “The struggles on the streets and in the
corners of cyberspace have a mutually complementary nature,” he told Associated Press. And the rebels see it the same way, too. “I am an anonymous soldier of Kashmir’s resistance movement, using Facebook and YouTube to fight India,” says a 23-year-old called Ahmed, who regularly confronts Indian police, armed with just a scarf and a cameraphone.

As well as fighting Indian security forces, Ahmed and his cohorts, who call themselves “sangbazan,” make video montages of footage they film–they can get to the places that journalists can’t or won’t–and put them up on YouTube, accompanied by emotive music (including, oddly enough, something by Irish MOR crooner Chris de Burgh). Law professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain, of the University of Kashmir, says that the sangbazan are “shaping the political discourse and raising the bar for pro-independence political groups in Kashmir and authorities in New Delhi.”

With around 40,000 Kashmiri inhabitants on Facebook, there’s an audience for this. One page, for Bekaar Jamaath (The Idle Group) had 12,000 followers before it was taken down following its hacking. The page was later put up again. And all of this has got the security forces on the hop. Footage of troops throwing stones and destroying homes goes up, and they are forced to put out defensive statements and go on a public charm offensive. it’s not something that will endear Facebook and YouTube to the authorities of Pakistan and India–indeed, both sites have already been banned in Pakistan, and India is already displaying hardline tendencies against BlackBerry, for fear that its network is used by terrorist groups.

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[We emailed YouTube and Facebook asking whether they planned to take steps to remove members who advocated violence but didn’t immediately hear back.]

While it is safe to say that neither Sergey Brin and Larry Page, nor Mark Zuckerberg are fans of violence–Google famously has “don’t be evil” as one of the tenets of its business, and Zuckerberg believes that more transparency in a person’s life will lead to them becoming a better person. So they won’t be best chuffed by the AP report. But doing something to limit the videos may lead to a breach of the First Amendment. So, what’s an Internet mogul to do?

Allow the pages and the videos to stay up, and you’re placing yourself firmly in the corner of the violence-mongers. Take the material down and you’re anti Freedom of Speech.

The report highlights the fact that social media is a Pandora’s Box. Open it up and all sorts of nasties are lurking in there–plus the fact that, at the bottom, lurks a hope that, as the 21st Century soothsayers predict, we will indeed become better people as a result of it. But, as long as violence is the message, one can’t help remain skeptical.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.

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