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Social Media destruct: Leicester erupts due to hate online?

Social media fuels and amplifies onground violence in Leicester, UK, a thorough investigation by the BBC reveals

Sabrangindia 26 Sep 2022

Andrew Fox/The GuardianImage courtesy: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

A BBC Investigation, Did misinformation fan the flames in Leicester? reveals how much of the genesis of the recent violence in Leicester, United Kingdom was fueled by deliberate misinformation, posted online. Tracing the social media role in heightening ground level tensions even violence, the BBC team (Reha Kansara and Abdirrahim Saeed assisted by ground level reporting by Yasminara Khan, Ahmed Nour, Khush Sameja, Shruti Menon, Ned Davies, Joshua Cheetham and Daniele Palumbo) has pointed out how the spiral of violence that climaxed between September 17-18, 2022 had also been fed previously by heightened social media activity around August 28 and months before that, in May 2022.

BBC quotes the temporary chief constable Rob Nixon speaking to BBC’s Two's Newsnight stating that there had been a deliberate attempt by people to use social media in a destructive way.  Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby also blamed online disinformation and said otherwise there was "no obvious local cause for this at all". At least one of those sentenced over the disorder has admitted being influenced by social media. From a false story about the kidnapping of a young girl that never took place (September 12-14), to slurs over an India-Pak-cricket match (August 29), Leicester kept figuring in polarized, even venomous tweets, computed and monitored by the BBC. At the peak of the ‘disorder’ on September 19 (see BBC graphic of their monitoring research), there were 150,000 tweets recorded by the investigation, on August 5, as many as 1,00,000 and on September 17-19 when the kidnapping story went viral a staggering 150,000. BBC used the CrowdTangle Tool to monitor and analyse public posts

Conversations with community leaders from both sides of the religious divide in Leicester pointed out how, specific pieces of misinformation (read ‘fake news’) that had contributed to the outburst of violence on the week-end of September 17-18. The revealing investigation investigation by BBC Monitoring - using commercial Twitter analysis tool Brandwatch - identified about half a million tweets in English that mention Leicester in the context of recent tensions.

“Within a sample of 200,000 tweets, BBC Monitoring found that just over half of mentions were made by accounts that the tool geo-located to India. The top hashtags used by many of the Indian accounts in the past week included #Leicester, #HindusUnderAttack and #HindusUnderattackinUK. The BBC found lots of indications of manipulation by accounts using these hashtags.”

“The most prolific user of some of these hashtags, for example, was geo-located to India, had no profile picture and the account was only started earlier this month. These are classic signs that can suggest "inauthentic activity" ie a likelihood that individuals are deliberately using multiple accounts to push a narrative.”

Examining the top 30 URLs that were shared using these hashtags, of these 11 were links to articles written by news website OpIndia.com, which describes itself as "bringing the right side of India to you". Along with the potentially inauthentic accounts, these articles were also widely shared by genuine accounts including some with hundreds of thousands of followers.

One of the OpIndia articles cited British researcher Charlotte Littlewood, from the Henry Jackson Society, who told GB News that several Hindu families had left Leicester due to threats of violence from Muslims. The article was retweeted nearly 2,500 times. Leicester Police have since said that they were unaware of any reports of families having to leave.

It's important to stress that there was no significant volume of tweets before the outbreak of the major disturbances on on  September 17-18.

Screenshot of tweet
Image source: Twitter

The heightened social media activity in the UK prompted by the disturbances included widely circulated claims –again completely unverified -- that coach-loads of Hindu activists were being bussed into Leicester to stir up trouble. The coach provider has been quoted by BBC as saying that he did not hire out any coaches!

Let’s now go back to September 12-14 and how, as the BBC ground level reporting and monitoring investigation shows, one false story was shared (referenced) several times, going ‘viral’ as the popular term goes, based on an incident that just did not take place.

"Today my 15-year-old daughter… was nearly kidnapped," read a post uploaded on to Facebook, supposedly by a “concerned father”. "3 Indian boys got out and asked her if she was Muslim. She said yes and one guy tried to grab her," reports the BBC investigation. This post –unverified and non-factual-- was liked hundreds of times, not on Facebook but on Twitter after Majid Freeman, a community activist, shared the family's story on 13 September. He also shared a message from the police which he said was "confirming the incident which took place yesterday [September 12]".

But there had been no kidnap attempt. A day later the same community activist says this:

Three days after the first facebook post, a day later and the abovementioned tweet, Leicestershire Police issued a statement after investigating and stated that "the incident did not take place". Majid Freeman deleted his posts and said the attempted abduction had not happened and that his initial version had been based on conversation with the family making the allegation.

The retraction came too late, the damage had already been done and this false kidnap claim kept being regurgitated on other platforms.  On WhatsApp, messages forwarded many times over were initially taken by some as the truth. On Instagram, profiles - some with hundreds of thousands of followers - shared screenshots of the original post and allegedly accused a Hindu man of being behind the "failed abduction".

The BBC Monitoring Research Investigation states that it's not possible to gauge the scale of spread in private networks.

India Pak Foreign Policy Fans the Hatred

India and Pakistan were quick to jump into the happenings in Leicester.  On September 19, the Indian High Commission in the United  Kingdom issued this official statement, “We strongly condemn the violence perpetrated against the Indian Community in Leicester and
vandalisation of premises and symbols of Hindu religion. We have strongly taken up this matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in these attacks. We call on the authorities to provide protection to the affected people.”
This came days after the Indian High Commission in Canada publicly criticised the defacing of a Hindu temple in Toronto. On Friday, the government of India even issued an advisory alleging a “sharp increase in hate crimes and anti-India activities” in Canada. The Indian response clearly reflects the hardening posture of the Indian state under the Bharatiya Janata Party. Pakistan, too painted the incidents at Leicester with a religious colour. This is thefirst paragraph of the Pakistani statement: “It is with great concern that the High Commission of Pakistan to the UK notes the recent developments in Leicester. We strongly condemn the systematic campaign of violence and intimidation that has been unleashed against the Muslims of the area. This is not the first time such Islamophobic incidents have been reported in Leicester.”
 

Leicester on August 28-29

India-Pakistan cricket matches have been known to foster hate and violence onground. India’s decisive victory over Pakistan in cricket's Asia Cup in Dubai on August 28. What followed was distortion, not entirely fabrication. A video from that night shows some men, several wearing India kits, marching down Melton Road in Leicester shouting "death to Pakistan" before scuffles broke out and the police arrived. Feeding into this hate frenzy, several social media users circulated another video supposedly showing a Muslim man being attacked after walking into the crowd. Ironically, it has been later suggested that the man was a Sikh.

May 22, 2022

When BBC met several community leaders, some referred to incident on Sunday May 22 when a video had been circulated on social media purportedly showing a 19-year-old Muslim man being pursued by a group of men described in social media posts as "Hindu extremists". Other posts referred to Hindutva, an ideology mostly associated with right-wing Hindu nationalists in India. It is a grainy video that has hazy images -- showing a group of men running down a street before an altercation happens. Who these men were and what their specific backgrounds are is not at all clear. Police are still in the process of arriving at a conclusion in their investigation, and the religious affiliation of the victim has not been revealed while social media posts continue to describe it as religiously motivated.

BBC Graphic on its Monitoring Research

Graph of tweets related to Leicester unrest
Courtesy: BBC

Those events in Leicester, with tensions and disorder suddenly prominent in national media, prompted a massive increase in social media posts.

Arrests:

The BBC report records that as of  September 23,  they had arrested 47 people, of whom eight had been charged. Of those arrested, 36 were from Leicester, one from Market Harborough, eight from Birmingham and just two from London. All of the eight who were charged were from Leicester.

Abuse against Coach Operator

A video that circulated on WhatsApp and Twitter from September 18 also showed a coach outside a Hindu temple in London, with a voice claiming the coach had just returned from Leicester. In a video posted the next day on Instagram the owner of the coach company said: "lots of people are calling me, threatening me, abusing me without any reason."

Screenshot of tweet

The coach operator clearly stated that none of his coaches had travelled to Leicester in the past two months and provided evidence from the GPS tracker of the bus in the video showing it had remained in south-east England on the weekend of 17-18 September. Other false claims on social media (September 19) blamed "Islamic extremists" for setting the fire, without evidence.  Ironically, BBC reports that the West Midlands Fire Service investigated the fire and concluded it started by accident when outdoor burning of rubbish spread to the building.

One of the most circulated videos showed a group of masked Hindu men marching through Green Lane Road, an area of Leicester with a large Muslim population, shouting the Hindu slogan "Jai Shri Ram".

Another video was circulated with posters saying it showed a Muslim man pulling down a Hindu saffron flag outside a temple. A flag was indeed pulled down at a temple on Belgrave Road in the city on the night of Saturday, September 17 and police were investigating. However, the identity of the culprit is unclear .The false claims and inflammatory posts that have exacerbated tensions between Hindus and Muslims have been condemned by many locals from these communities.

For decades, the city has been home to South Asians who came to the UK from parts of India and East Africa, and they have lived side-by-side and fought for equal rights together.

Related

 

Social media platforms finally compel extremist groups to shun hate speech, fake news

Hate content on social media: Corporate and individual responsibility

The interplay between social media and hate speech in India

 

Social Media destruct: Leicester erupts due to hate online?

Social media fuels and amplifies onground violence in Leicester, UK, a thorough investigation by the BBC reveals

Andrew Fox/The GuardianImage courtesy: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

A BBC Investigation, Did misinformation fan the flames in Leicester? reveals how much of the genesis of the recent violence in Leicester, United Kingdom was fueled by deliberate misinformation, posted online. Tracing the social media role in heightening ground level tensions even violence, the BBC team (Reha Kansara and Abdirrahim Saeed assisted by ground level reporting by Yasminara Khan, Ahmed Nour, Khush Sameja, Shruti Menon, Ned Davies, Joshua Cheetham and Daniele Palumbo) has pointed out how the spiral of violence that climaxed between September 17-18, 2022 had also been fed previously by heightened social media activity around August 28 and months before that, in May 2022.

BBC quotes the temporary chief constable Rob Nixon speaking to BBC’s Two's Newsnight stating that there had been a deliberate attempt by people to use social media in a destructive way.  Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby also blamed online disinformation and said otherwise there was "no obvious local cause for this at all". At least one of those sentenced over the disorder has admitted being influenced by social media. From a false story about the kidnapping of a young girl that never took place (September 12-14), to slurs over an India-Pak-cricket match (August 29), Leicester kept figuring in polarized, even venomous tweets, computed and monitored by the BBC. At the peak of the ‘disorder’ on September 19 (see BBC graphic of their monitoring research), there were 150,000 tweets recorded by the investigation, on August 5, as many as 1,00,000 and on September 17-19 when the kidnapping story went viral a staggering 150,000. BBC used the CrowdTangle Tool to monitor and analyse public posts

Conversations with community leaders from both sides of the religious divide in Leicester pointed out how, specific pieces of misinformation (read ‘fake news’) that had contributed to the outburst of violence on the week-end of September 17-18. The revealing investigation investigation by BBC Monitoring - using commercial Twitter analysis tool Brandwatch - identified about half a million tweets in English that mention Leicester in the context of recent tensions.

“Within a sample of 200,000 tweets, BBC Monitoring found that just over half of mentions were made by accounts that the tool geo-located to India. The top hashtags used by many of the Indian accounts in the past week included #Leicester, #HindusUnderAttack and #HindusUnderattackinUK. The BBC found lots of indications of manipulation by accounts using these hashtags.”

“The most prolific user of some of these hashtags, for example, was geo-located to India, had no profile picture and the account was only started earlier this month. These are classic signs that can suggest "inauthentic activity" ie a likelihood that individuals are deliberately using multiple accounts to push a narrative.”

Examining the top 30 URLs that were shared using these hashtags, of these 11 were links to articles written by news website OpIndia.com, which describes itself as "bringing the right side of India to you". Along with the potentially inauthentic accounts, these articles were also widely shared by genuine accounts including some with hundreds of thousands of followers.

One of the OpIndia articles cited British researcher Charlotte Littlewood, from the Henry Jackson Society, who told GB News that several Hindu families had left Leicester due to threats of violence from Muslims. The article was retweeted nearly 2,500 times. Leicester Police have since said that they were unaware of any reports of families having to leave.

It's important to stress that there was no significant volume of tweets before the outbreak of the major disturbances on on  September 17-18.