How social media storm unleashed in India fueled Hindu-Muslim unrest in UK — experts

Armed police patrol outside the venue on the opening day of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, central England, on October 2, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 04 October 2022

How social media storm unleashed in India fueled Hindu-Muslim unrest in UK — experts

  • Rumours spread online included that a Muslim girl was kidnapped and Hindu temple had unleashed masked thugs
  • Rob Nixon, who runs Leicestershire Police, says misinformation on social media had played “huge role” in last month’s unrest

Rumour had it that a Muslim girl had been kidnapped and a Hindu temple had sent masked thugs into combat. Add in local fury over an India-Pakistan cricket match, and Hindu and Muslim men were soon fighting on the streets of central England.
It was a social media storm — mostly cooked up a continent away — that materialized in real life in Leicester, where police made almost 50 arrests and a community was left in tatters.
“It is a powerful illustration of how hashtag dynamics on Twitter can use dubious inflammatory claims to ... escalate tensions on the ground,” said a spokesperson at fact-checking site Logically, which analyzed the posts’ veracity.
Experts say most of the incendiary tweets, rumors and lies came from India, showing the power of unchecked social media to spread disinformation and stir unrest a full continent away.
“I’ve seen quite a selection of the social media stuff which is very, very, very distorting now and some of it just completely lying about what had been happening between different communities,” Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s mayor, told BBC radio.
Rob Nixon, who runs Leicestershire Police, concurred, telling the BBC that misinformation on social media had played a “huge role” in last month’s unrest.
To counter some of these claims, police took to social media themselves, saying they had fully investigated reports of three men approaching a teenaged girl in an attempted kidnap, and found no truth whatsoever to the online story.
“We urge you to only share information on social media you know to be true,” they said.
Fact-checkers also found no truth to claims that gangs of masked thugs were bussed into Leicester.
Many of the misleading posts alleging that Hindus and Hindu sites were being attacked came from India, analysis showed.
Some 80 percent of tweets with geographic coordinates, or geo-tagged information, were connected to India, Logically said.
“The ratio of tweets geo-tagged to the UK versus those geo-tagged to India was remarkably high for what, ostensibly, was a domestic incident,” a spokesperson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“The involvement of high-profile figures in India setting the discourse was a key element.”
BBC Monitoring said that more than half of the 200,000 tweets it investigated came from accounts geo-tagged to India, with hashtags such as #Leicester, #HindusUnderAttack and #HindusUnderattackinUK.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.

HORRIFIC’ HASHTAGS

The fact-checks confirmed what several Leicester residents had suspected for years: online disinformation and abuse aimed at religious minorities came increasingly from users in India, and platforms were doing little or nothing to check it.
“The events in Leicester did not happen out of the blue,” said Keval Bharadia at the South Asia Solidarity Group, a British community non-profit.
“Friends and family have been sending fake news and misinformation for years. It is a never-ending stream of propaganda from troll armies,” he said.
A spokesman for India’s ministry of home affairs did not respond to a request for comment.
The Indian High Commission in London, in a statement, said it “strongly” condemned the violence against the Indian community in Leicester, and the vandalism of “premises and symbols of Hindu religion.”
Some commentators and rights groups say India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has a hand in the social-media warfare that targets religious and ethnic minorities.
The BJP swept into power in India in 2014 and won by an even bigger margin in 2019, its victories in part credited to its savvy tech cell and social-media prowess, fueled by thousands of supporters it calls digital “yodhas” or warriors.
BJP’s tech cell, as well as government appointed cyber volunteers, often abuse religious minorities and spread disinformation about them on social media, rights groups say.
In a recent report, Dalit rights group Equality Labs said “nationalistic, Islamophobic, and casteist disinformation” was spreading among expatriate Indians via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and thousands of Whatsapp and Telegram chat groups.
“Hindu nationalism is one of the largest disinformation networks in the global South Asian diaspora, with bigoted and often terrifying attacks against caste and religious minorities,” said Thenmozhi Soundararajan of Equality Labs.
“Just think about the horrific hashtags that are now normal,” said Soundararajan, citing “presstitute” — a derogatory term for journalists — and “lovejihad,” an Islamophobic conspiracy theory popular in India.
“Narratives spread on WhatsApp have led to offline violence,” she added.
MUTE WITNESS
While expatriates have long absorbed content from India, and commented on events, disinformation has mushroomed with the rise of social media platforms, said Pratik Sinha, co-founder of Indian fact checking site AltNews.
“We are so polarized now, and this is particularly true of non-resident Indians who can’t check the reality on the ground,” he said.
“A lot of hate speech and misinformation, particularly in regional languages, goes unchecked on social media platforms.”
Much of the noise emanates from Meta, formerly Facebook, which in 2019 commissioned an independent assessment of its role in spreading hate speech and incitement to violence on its platforms in India, following criticism by civil society groups.
But Meta has since said it would not release the full report, only saying that it had “significantly increased” its content moderation workforce and language support for India.
Twitter — which has about 24 million users in India — has asked an Indian court to overturn some government orders to remove posts which Delhi said spread misinformation.
Last month, in a rare rebuke, India’s Supreme Court said television was the “chief medium of hate speech” and asked why the government was “standing by as a mute witness.”
The government has not responded to the charge.
Meanwhile, hate speech and disinformation on social media platforms goes largely unchecked in one of their largest markets, said Sinha.
“Misinformation leads to radicalization, no matter where you are,” he said. “We are already seeing the consequences on the ground.”


Pakistan PM meets new army chief, lauds military's professional abilities

Updated 30 November 2022

Pakistan PM meets new army chief, lauds military's professional abilities

  • Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tells General Asim Munir it is a huge honor to lead the Pakistan Army
  • The PM hopes the armed forces will protect the country’s security better under its new leadership

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif praised the military’s professional abilities while holding a meeting with the new army chief Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday, saying it was a huge honor for anyone to lead the armed forces of Pakistan which were tirelessly working for the country’s security.

This was Munir’s first meeting with the prime minister after taking over the army’s command in a ceremony held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday. He replaced General Qamar Javed Bajwa who retired from the post after leading the army for six years.

“We have full confidence in the professional capabilities of the Pakistan Army,” the prime minister was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office after the meeting.

“It is a great honor to lead the Pakistan Army,” he said while addressing the top general. “It is hoped that the armed forces under your leadership will deal with the challenges facing the country’s security in a better way.”

Sharif congratulated Munir on taking charge of his new position.

He maintained the whole nation was proud of the army’s role in protecting the frontiers of the country and fighting violent extremism and militancy.

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history, either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir’s appointment coincides with a dispute between the army and former premier Imran Khan, who blames top military generals for playing a part in his ouster in a parliamentary no-trust vote earlier this year.

Khan also expressed hope earlier in the day the new military leadership would end the “prevailing trust deficit” between the army and the public.

The PM Office said in its statement Sharif’s meeting with the army chief focused on professional issues related to the country’s defense and security.

Munir also met President Arif Alvi during the day.

In a separate meeting, Alvi discussed defense related matters with the new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza.

Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi (right) meets army chief Syed Asim Munir in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 30, 2022. (PID)

 


Gas blast at Pakistan coal mine kills nine workers, injures four

Updated 30 November 2022

Gas blast at Pakistan coal mine kills nine workers, injures four

  • Coal deposits are found in the northwestern Orakzai district that sits on the Afghan border
  • Mine workers say lack of safety gear, poor working conditions are key causes of accidents

PESHAWAR: A gas blast at a coal mine killed nine workers in a northwestern Pakistani district on Wednesday, a government official said, and a team investigating the incident said gas sparks had caused the explosion.

There were 13 workers in the mine at the time and nine bodies were recovered, said Adnan Farid, the area deputy commissioner.

The remaining four miners were rescued from the rubble and have suffered critical injuries, he said.

A government team from the mineral development department inspected the site of the incident and said the explosion took place "due to gas sparks inside the mine," Orakzai district police chief Nazeer Khan told Reuters.

A government report seen by Reuters said the blast caused the collapse of the mine, and that gas build-up had triggered the blast. It didn't specify what type of gas it was.

Coal deposits are found in the northwestern Orakzai district that sits on the Afghan border and mine accidents are common, mainly due to gas build-ups.

Mine workers have complained that a lack of safety gear and poor working conditions are the key causes of frequent accidents, labor union officials have said in the past.


At exhibition celebrating UAE National Day, envoy says Pakistan ties ‘unique in region’

Updated 30 November 2022

At exhibition celebrating UAE National Day, envoy says Pakistan ties ‘unique in region’

  • The photo exhibition highlighted 51 years of friendship between the UAE and Pakistan
  • Al-Zaabi expressed optimism about the trajectory of relations between the two countries

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Pakistan are destined to take their relations to new heights, said the envoy of the Arab country, Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi, while visiting a photo exhibition in Islamabad on Wednesday.

The exhibition that highlighted 51 years of friendship between the two states is part of a string of events organized to celebrate the UAE national day that falls on December 2.

Students of Sheikh Zayed International Academy, Islamabad, sang the national anthem of the Arab country and performed traditional dance to celebrate the occasion.

“We are always optimistic about the future of bilateral relations with Pakistan and see this relation jump to a different level,” Al-Zaabi said while addressing the ceremony.

UAE Ambassador to Pakistan Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi (3rd from left) inaugurates a photo exhibition in connection with the 51st UAE national day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

He maintained the UAE national day was always a major occasion that meant a great deal to the citizens of his country. He also expressed his gratitude to all the students for participating in the program and making it memorable through their performance.

Al-Zaabi said Pakistan and the UAE enjoyed a strong and historic relationship which was spread over 51 years of shared cooperation.

“We always look at this relation as unique in the region,” he continued. “There are feelings of trust between the people and leaders of the two brotherly countries.”
The UAE envoy said his country looked to future generations through educational cooperation.

“Under Sheikh Zayed International Academy, students from different nationalities and cultures have come here to celebrate the UAE national day with our culture which is really important for all of us,” he added.

Students of Sheikh Zayed International Academy are performing to celebrate the 51st UAE national day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

Speaking on the occasion, former president of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industries Sardar Yasir Ilyas said Pakistan could learn a great deal from the UAE, including how to strengthen its tourism industry.

“Tourism has made the UAE a hub of international attention and Pakistan should learn from [UAE’s] experience to tap its vast potential in this field,” he added.


Pakistan Navy seizes thousands of kilograms of drugs in Arabian Sea

Updated 30 November 2022

Pakistan Navy seizes thousands of kilograms of drugs in Arabian Sea

  • Pakistan is part of a transit route in the lucrative drug smuggling trade
  • Navy says its ships located and effectively intercepted two ‘suspicious’ dhows

KARACHI: In an operation in the North Arabian Sea, two Pakistan Navy ships seized approximately 5,800 kilograms of drugs valued at approximately Rs8.6 billion, a spokesperson for the navy said on Wednesday.

Pakistan, like India, is part of a transit route in the lucrative drug smuggling trade, due to its proximity to Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium, from which heroin is made.

“Successful counter narcotics operation was conducted by two Pakistan Navy Ships in Arabian Sea in which a large cache of drugs has been apprehended,” the navy said in a statement.

“While conducting Maritime Security Operations in North Arabian Sea, Naval Ships located and effectively intercepted two suspicious dhows. Upon scrutiny of these boats, a large quantity of drugs that valued approximately Rs. 8.6 billion in international market was seized.”

The navy said both dhows have been handed over to law enforcement agencies. It did not specify what types of drugs were seized or how many people were arrested on board the two dhows.

“The successful operation by Pakistan Navy to seize huge quantity of narcotics reaffirms the resolve and commitment of PN to fulfill national and international obligations for maintaining good order at sea,” the statement said. “Pakistan Navy is vigilant to counter any illegal activity and safeguard its maritime borders.”

In October this year, Indian authorities arrested six Pakistani nationals and seized heroin worth tens of millions of dollars from a Pakistani fishing boat in the Arabian Sea near the western state of Gujarat.


Pakistan and England to finalize first Test match schedule on Thursday morning

Updated 30 November 2022

Pakistan and England to finalize first Test match schedule on Thursday morning

  • The commencement of the first Test match became doubtful after England players complained of stomach bug
  • A ceremony to unveil the series trophy had also to be postponed since England skipper was not in good health

ISLAMABAD: The top governing bodies of cricket in England and Pakistan will take a decision about the commencement of the first Test match between the two sides on Thursday after England players, including skipper Ben Stokes, complained of a stomach bug ahead of the contest in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

England arrived in Islamabad on Sunday for their first Test tour of Pakistan in 17 years after playing a seven-match Twenty20 series in the country two months ago. The two sides are scheduled to play three Test matches in December, though it is not clear if the series will begin as per schedule due to the health issues faced by the visiting team.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced in a Twitter post on Wednesday that its officials were in conversation with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) over the commencement of the first Test match.

According to a statement subsequently released, the two boards “unanimously agreed to delay the decision” until Thursday morning on the basis of the health condition of the players.

“The two boards also agreed, subject to the England players not recovering well enough to take the field on Thursday morning, then the Test will commence on Friday and will be a five-day match,” the PCB statement added. “In this scenario, the schedule of the second Test in Multan and the third Test in Karachi will remain unaffected and will be played as per original schedule, i.e. 9-13 and 17-21 December, respectively.”

The captains of the two national teams were also supposed to unveil the Test series trophy on Wednesday, but the ceremony was postponed since the England skipper was not in a good shape.

“Several players and staff members, including England captain Ben Stokes, are feeling unwell and have been advised to stay at the hotel to rest up,” said an ECB statement.

According to media reports, about eight members of the England squad have been hit by the viral food poisoning, though the team brought its own chef after some players complained about food and fell ill during the T20 series.