Iranian trolls and white supremacists have used social media platforms to fuel Hinduphobia


Social media platforms, civil society organizations and the media are largely unacknowledged about Hinduphobia today. But a Rutgers University study showed that anti-Hindu misinformation and propaganda in the form of memes and hashtags is currently growing prolifically on online platforms. Members of the Network Contagion Lab at Rutgers University of New Brunswick (NC Lab) have found evidence of an increase in hate speech and changing patterns targeting the Hindu community on many social media platforms. The findings were published in their recently released report.

Rutgers NC Lab researchers used artificial intelligence to better understand the evolution of disguised and coded language patterns shared on social media. According to an analysis of one million tweets, Iranian trolls spread anti-Hindu stereotypes to fuel hatred through impact campaigns accusing Hindus of genocide against Indian minorities.

The report also revealed how white supremacists shared genocidal memes about Hindus which were shared prolifically within extremist Islamist web networks on the Telegram messaging service and others. He explains how it is widely shared on the religious web network to fuel hatred. In July, signals of Hindu codewords and memes hit record highs, leading to real-world violence, particularly over religious tensions in India. Social media platforms largely ignore the passwords, key images and structured nature of this hate, even as the hate surges, the report shows.

The report revealed that anti-Hindu misinformation is masked through the use of ethnic pejoratives, slurs and coded language. Here is an example of a meme associated with Hindus titled “Poo in the Loo” using the anti-Semitic Happy Merchant Meme. This shows how ethnic haters share effective memetic material. “Hinduphobic tropes – such as portraying Hindus as inherently heretical, filthy, tyrannical, genocidal, irredeemable or disloyal – are prevalent across the ideological spectrum and are deployed by fringe web communities and state actors,” the report states.

White supremacist and Islamist communities refer to Indians as “pajeets” on fringe web platforms (4chan, gab). This is growing rapidly in traditional communities as well. Using Word2Vec, a natural language processing algorithm, researchers found that word associations with “pajeet” are derogatory characterizations. Their analysis suggests that pajeet is used interchangeably in reference to Hindus and Indians, with the majority of derogatory characterizations targeting Hindus. Distinctly Hindu symbols are used in memes referencing pajeet, not other Indian religions.

The Chabad synagogue shooter in 2019 referred to “pajeets” in the manifesto. It has also been used in white nationalist podcasts about Indian murder fantasies. Memes associated with pajeet found on Twitter openly called for the violent killing of Hindus. Extremists have used memes to suggest a repeat of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Nazi-style executions and co-opted the murder of George Floyd to suggest the same should be done to Hindus.

In addition to extremist groups and fringe web communities, state actors also deploy anti-Hindu tropes in geopolitical-oriented information operations. We uncovered an influence operation by Iranian state-sponsored trolls claiming to be Pakistani users. During the bombing of the Bhopal-Ujjain passenger train in March 2017 by ISIS, Iranian trolls, posing as Pakistanis, attempted a disinformation campaign to suggest that the attack had been committed by “Hindu extremists” and tried to change it.

The researchers called on the platforms to recognize the growing ethnic misinformation and the harmful impacts this can have on Hindu communities. “This is essential for better detection,” urge the researchers. Joel Finkelstein, chief data scientist at the NCRI and senior fellow at the Miller Center, who led the student research, says educating young people about how to recognize open source hate messages is an important first step in helping vulnerable communities to respond to new threats. Previous work by Rutgers has shown a link between the intensity of hate speech on social media and the epidemic of violence in the real world. “We hope the report serves as a timely warning before hate speech leads to real-world violence,” said Denver Riggleman, former US congressman and Miller Center fellow and visiting scholar.

This article was originally published in Samvada World and has been republished here with permission.

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