The core argument on regulating online content is purportedly to prevent its use in stoking communal tensions. But how many instances are there where online content led to actual widespread physical violence? Other than the controversy over the infamous Danish cartoons denigrating the Prophet, in India there have been just two obscure incidents.
In the first, someone impersonating a prominent Assamese journalist posted a fake profile on Facebook and uploaded derogatory references to girls from the Ahom community. This led to a violent protests in August this year. The second incident happened in Udaipur last month where a peaceful rally to protest a vulgar image of a Muslim religious site on Facebook turned violent and left six injured.
Critics argue that the government ought to actually go after individuals who misuse online content. “More often than not, violence is a result of political agendas and leaders with goons for hire. Why does the government not control their ilk (the politicians), ask them to behave?” asks Nikhil Pahwa, editor of Medianama. The Udaipur incident became violent only after a miscreant on a bike entered the scene. Is it fair to police the internet when authorities can’t effectively police India’s streets? JNU professor Nivedita Menon thinks the connection between online content and violence is tenuous at best. “The reasons for violence have to do with much bigger structural and political reasons that the state continues to ignore.”