Violent religious-nationalist cult targets Indian minorities on Facebook – Kashmir Media Service
Hindus Janjagruti Samiti and Sanatan Sanstha continue to fuel sectarian tensions with help of Facebook pages and groups
By Ayushman Kaul (DFR Laboratory)
Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS), an affiliate of Sanatan Sanstha (SS), a violent, right-wing religious-nationalist sect based in India but operating internationally, has developed a Facebook network consisting of at least 46 pages and 75 groups to promote hostile narratives targeting the country’s religious minorities. Leveraging Facebook’s potential reach of 9.8 million users, the organization has posted written articles, professionally edited graphics, and video clippings from right-wing and state-affiliated media to demonize them. religious minorities in India and stir up fear and misperceptions of the Indian majority. Hindu community.
While 35 of the 46 pages have been removed from the platform, all 75 groups remain active at the time of publication.
Who are HJS and SS?
Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and Sanstha are religious-nationalist cults that seek to overthrow the secular nature of the modern Indian state and its constitution in favor of a Hindu Rashtra, or a religious nationalist state. This desire to overturn the socialist and syncretic nature of Indian political culture is a central tenet of Hindu nationalism. Hindutva Extremist political ideology embraced by broad sections of the Indian right, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing paramilitary organization, as well as the ruling Bhartiya Janata (BJP) party.
In March 2020, the DFRLab highlighted a network of right-wing Facebook pages that sought to capitalize on disparate incidents of sexual violence across the country as a means of stoking sectarian tensions between Hindu, Christian and Muslim communities in India. Further examination of the same network revealed that the pages identified in the previous investigation were part of a larger network of regional Facebook pages and linked Facebook groups used by HJS and SS to spread hostile narratives demonizing religious minorities. from the country.
Both groups have been the subject of numerous investigations carried out by the country’s state and local police services for their alleged involvement in a series of domestic terrorist attacks from 2007 to 2009, as well as the targeted assassinations of intellectuals and leading journalists, including Narendra Dabholkar. , Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh between 2013 and 2015. In December 2018, the India time reported the Karnataka Counterterrorism Brigade indictment against 12 members of both groups for their involvement in another attempted attack on the Sunburn electronic music festival held in Pune the same year.
In December 2020, the the Wall Street newspaper reported that HJS was named alongside SS, Sri Ram Sena and Bajrang Dal, as right-wing groups being investigated by Facebook for potentially violating the platform’s policy on individuals and dangerous organizations. The same article revealed how the company’s human rights staff had internally designated India as a ‘Tier 1’ country, meaning it was most at risk for societal violence, requiring increased efforts to protect vulnerable populations on the platform.
According to a press release published in the Sanatan Prabhat, a newsletter posted by the SS on its website, the group claimed that on September 4, 2020, Facebook took action against four of its pages as part of the platform’s attempts to ban those ” engaged in terrorism and organized criminal activity “alongside” groups containing content that expresses support for these organizations, their leaders and their violent activities.
Despite these moderation efforts by the Facebook security team, at the time of this analysis, SS continues to leverage its access to its HJS affiliate network on Facebook as a means of disseminating its extremist ideology to a large audience of Indian users across the country.
To better understand the behavior of the network on the platform on Facebook, the DFRLab analyzed the activity of all the pages we identified in the network over a two-year period from January 2019 to April 2021 using by CrowdTangle, a social media outlet owned by Facebook. analysis tool. The query revealed that a network of 46 Facebook pages collected more than 9,622,477 interactions during the period under review, with an average of 209,000 interactions per page. The network had access to a combined audience of 2,623,475 user accounts at the time of analysis, although it is likely that some of these accounts were following more than one page, thus inflating the total.
HJS uses its network of pages to sort through incidents of violent or sexual crimes allegedly involving members of the country’s religious minority communities. The previous DFRLab survey highlighted this dissemination strategy through the three largest pages of the network: Hindu Adhiveshan, HJS-Hindi and Forum for Hindu Awakening.
Repeatedly, the same content was posted on multiple pages within minutes, suggesting coordination between page operators.
HJS also uses the network to amplify right-wing social causes and public and online events organized by the organization. These events are often centered on providing a right-wing interpretation of the ongoing political developments and protest movements in the country. Guest speakers typically include members of the SS, local BJP politicians, and right-wing media figures.
In particular, Kapil Mishra, a member of the New Delhi Legislative Assembly (MLA) BJP, has appeared as a keynote speaker at several events hosted by HJS and broadcast through their Facebook network. The politician also recorded a promotional video for an all-India social media conclave on Hindu Rashtra hosted by HJS on June 2, 2019.
Finally, the network of Facebook pages is also used to disseminate joint events organized by the HJS and the SS. Several posts on pages openly related to the HJS and amplified on the wider network use graphics from the SS. These posts also amplify links to pages operated by SS, helping the far-right sect to continue disseminating its teachings to millions of users and evade the platform’s moderation efforts.
The DFRLab also used CrowdTangle to analyze activity on the platform of 75 Facebook groups over a two-year period, from January 2019 to April 2021. The query revealed that the linked groups gained 635,799,739 interactions during of the period examined, with an average of 8,477,330 interactions per group. through the network. The combined subscriber count across all groups was 7,279,460 at the time of analysis.
Unlike the HJS-controlled Facebook pages, which focused on the organization’s different regional sections across the country, the network of linked groups is dedicated to a wide variety of right-wing social, political, religious and cultural causes. The network includes fan pages for local religious figures, pro-BJP fan groups, groups promoting RSS, as well as other interest groups dedicated to the promotion of a Hindutva political ideology and the establishment of a Rashtra.
Additionally, related groups are full of abusive posts that incorporate graphic images, racial slurs, misogynistic language, and other types of abusive content. These messages often target religious minorities and public figures in the national media and politics who publicly criticize right-wing politics in India.
Although they represent a wide variety of right-wing religious, cultural and political causes, these groups make no secret of their affiliation with HJS and SS, with their page posts being systematically amplified by a small group of user accounts across the various Facebook groups.
At the time of publication, 35 of the 46 pages have been suspended by Facebook, while all 75 groups remain active. The DFRLab has contacted Facebook for comment.
Supporters of the far-right Hindutva ideology in India have built up a large following on Facebook by stoking community tensions online and attacking their political opponents with racial and ethnic slurs. These ideologies have not been completely relegated to the political fringes in India; on the contrary, some officials in the current BJP government have co-opted and legitimized some of their sectarian messages, often for political ends.
Ayushman Kaulis a research assistant, South Asia, at the Digital Forensic Research Lab.
Courtesy of South Asian Wire