“We are moving from Digital India to ‘Divisive India’,” said the Opposition in one voice during a discussion in the Rajya Sabha in Thursday on the misuse of social media platforms and propagation of fake news causing unrest and violence. The speakers slammed the Narendra Modi-led government for misuse of social media platforms such as WhatsApp that has led to mob lynchings.

In the recent past, 44 persons have been killed across 13 States on the basis of rumours spread on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

“It is a party that came to power in 2014 and created the culture of digital mobs, it is a party that came to power in 2014 and used the social media to condition their minds, it is the party that came to power in 2014 and has made fake news their master hobby,” Trinamool Congress Derek O’Brien said.

Citing the example of Postcard News, which was recently banned by Facebook for spreading fake news, Mr. O’ Brien said that one hundred per cent of its content was BJP propaganda. “I believe Digital India is really turning into ‘Divisive India’,” he said.

Samajwadi Party MP Javed Ali said the first instance of misuse of social media was during the riots in Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh adding that those who incited the violence were felicitated by the government.

“Misuse of social media is definitely an issue of worry. But more dangerous when a particular political party or an organisation spreads the rumours in an organised manner to disrupt communal harmony,” Mr. Ali said.

Attacking Civil Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha who felicitated persons accused of lynching in Jharkhand, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “The government claims it can’t regulate social media, but what is it doing with the perpetrators who they finally arrest.”

Opening the debate, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government had told WhatsApp to come up with “better technological solutions”. He also said that the government had asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate Cambridge Analytica for possible violation of the Information Technology Act 2000 and the IPC.

Calls for diligence

At the same time, he said the government could not be held responsible for these incidents. “The government is committed to the freedom of speech and privacy as enshrined in the Constitution. It does not regulate the content on the social media. These social media though are required to follow due diligence… and ensure that their platforms are not used to commit and provoke terrorism, extremism ,” he said.

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