Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 27 November 2020

From Instagram to TikTok: Indians wage online battle against citizenship law

Students have taken to social media to wage battle online and teach people how to organise demonstrations

Police detain a protester at a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in New Delhi. AFP
Police detain a protester at a demonstration against India’s new citizenship law in New Delhi. AFP

As protests against a new citizenship law rage at universities in India, students are using social media to teach people how to organise demonstrations.

Instagram is popular with some because it can be used to share pictures and video, while its settings allow protection against the online harassment that users can suffer on other platforms.

“I don’t like Twitter because each time I open it I see so much hate,” said Abdul Rehman, 22, an engineering student at New Delhi university Jamia Millia Islamia.

“There is no way to control who is viewing or sharing my pictures or videos on WhatsApp and most of my audience is not on Facebook.”

Tens of thousands of Indians have protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act, with students at the forefront.

Approved by India’s President Ram Nath Kovind last week, the law paves the way for minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to get Indian citizenship, but critics say it is biased against Muslims.

One protest on Sunday culminated in police storming the Jamia Millia Islamia, injuring about 200 people.

Current and former students of the university criticised the move on Instagram.

“We millennials are always active on Instagram,” said Islam Mirza, who completed a masters in business administration at Jamia Millia Islamia earlier this year. “Whether it is to call off the protest, whether it is to organise the protests, whether it is to instruct students what to do or what not to do to help keep the protests peaceful, we use Instagram as a messenger.”

Many also use the platform to educate others about what they see as potential concerns with the new legislation.

While Facebook and its messenger WhatsApp are also being used to drive conversations about the CAA and protests, over half a dozen students from Jamia Millia Islamia said Instagram was their preferred choice of social media.

Avoiding hate

Privacy settings on Instagram offer an escape from trolling or online harassment on platforms such as Twitter, said Torsha Sarkar, a policy officer at the Centre for internet and Society in Bengaluru.

The active presence of film, music and fashion celebrities on Instagram also makes it an appealing platform for young users to post pictures and videos for all to see, unlike Facebook or WhatsApp, on which conversations are largely private or among a user’s close social circle.

It’s not all one-way traffic, though. Many are using social media to support the nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

TikTok, a social networking service is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, allows users to create and share short videos with special effects and is being used by some Indians to show their opposition to the citizenship law.

A video posted by user @monuqureshi142 shows two women, one dressed in a white jumper and blue jeans, the other in a burka, shouting slogans to a cheering crowd of hundreds outside the main gate at Jamia Millia Islamia.

The soundtrack is dubbed over by a male voice rapping in Hindi.

“They malign us when we speak of our rights, the government and police feign ignorance from it all … Unite, listen Muslims now all of you unite.”

Updated: December 19, 2019 09:08 PM

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