Rutgers report finds increase in anti-Hindu disinformation on some social media platforms

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pajeet-twitter-timeseries graph. Photo: courtesy Network Contagion Research Institute, Rutgers University

Members of the Network Contagion Lab at Rutgers University-New Brunswick (NC Lab), led by Indian-American Prasiddha Sudhakar, found evidence of a sharp rise and evolving patterns of hate speech directed toward the Hindu community across numerous social media platforms, according to a new report. Though this report is focused on the Hindu community, the methodology developed by the researchers can be used to detect trends for other groups who might be subjected to ethnic hate expressions on social media, Sudhakar said.

The report entitled, “Anti-Hindu Disinformation: A Case Study of Hinduphobia on Social Media” was released July 13, 2022. It “details how white supremacist and 4chan genocidal Pepe memes about Hindus are being shared prolifically within extremist Islamist web networks on messaging service Telegram and elsewhere,” the press release said.

Sudhakar told News India Times, the research team looked at three fringe platforms, 4chan, Telegram, Gab, and also at Twitter.

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The Rutgers NC Lab used artificial intelligence to better understand the development of a disguised and coded language pattern shared on social networks. According to their analysis of 1 million tweets, Iranian trolls disseminated anti-Hindu stereotypes to fuel division as part of an influence campaign to accuse Hindus of perpetrating a genocide against minorities in India, the press release said.

Student analysts like Prasiddha Sudhakar worked with high school students from the New Jersey Governors’ STEM Scholars program to assemble and analyze the data. They taught them about cyber social threat detection through machine learning, open-source intelligence gathering and the dimensions of anti-Hindu disinformation.

“I had the opportunity to train students from high school (through the NJ Governor’s STEM Scholars program) to college on cyber social threat detection through machine learning, open source intelligence gathering and the dimensions of Anti-Hindu disinformation,” Sudhakar told News India Times.

“Platforms are largely unaware of the code words, key images and structured nature of this hatred even as it is surging,” Sudhakar said. “Through our machine learning and natural language processing tools, all forms of ethnic hatred are possible to detect,” she added.

“Our hope is that the report serves as a timely warning, as the NCRI has done with the BoogalooQAnon, the rise of Anti-Asian hate and the rise of antisemitism and many others so that platforms and media can get ahead of the curve,” Sudhakar emphasized.

A recent Rutgers graduate with a double major in computer science and economics and minor in critical intelligence studies, Sudhakar said, “I appreciate the opportunity to bring awareness to this underrepresented subject matter.”

“Educating young people on how to detect open-source hate messaging is a vital first step in helping vulnerable communities prepare for and respond to emerging threats,” said Joel Finkelstein, chief data scientist at the NCRI and a senior research fellow at the Miller Center, who directed the student research.

In July 2022 the signal on the Hinduphobic code words and memes reached record highs, the research team found. However, social media platforms largely are unaware of the code words, key images, and structured nature of this hatred even as it is surging, they said.

“There is, unfortunately, nothing new to the bigotry and violence faced by the Hindu population,” said John J. Farmer Jr., director of both the Miller Center and the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “What is new is the social media context in which hate messages are being shared. Our prior work has shown a correlation between the intensity of hate messaging over social media and the eruption of real-world acts of violence.”

“I have been witness to the manufacturing of hate against Hindus for three decades now,” Professor Ramesh Rao of the Communications Department at Columbus State University in Atlanta, Georgia, told News India Times, “And this report by the Network Contagion Lab at Rutgers University-New Brunswick (NC Lab) offers support to those of us who have toiled over three decades to bring these Hinduphobic matters to the notice of the general public.”

“This report, while it conveys deeply disturbing online trends, is a much needed and welcome validation of what we have seen and felt on the ground in Hindu American advocacy over the past few years, including false accusations of violence and allegations of dual loyalty being lodged against Hindu American institutions and elected leaders,” Suhag Shukla, executive director of Hindu American Foundation, told News India Times via email.

“What’s even more concerning is that these false narratives being crafted online by Islamist trolls of “violent Hindus” and “genocide of religious minorities in India” are being promoted and in some sense legitimized by so-called “progressive”, far-left activists and even some mainstream human rights groups,” she added.

“Every policymaker and observer of India needs to read this report to better understand the dangerous, foreign influence bleeding into our country and endangering Hindu Americans. Every Hindu American community leader needs to read this report and actively work to protect our institutions and communities before rhetoric translates to actual violence as it has with antisemitic rhetoric and attacks on Jewish Americans,” Shukla cautioned.

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