The Viral Politics of Hate and Violence

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The grainy video plays on loop across TV channels and social media – a crazed mob dragging a helpless Muslim man across the street, mercilessly beating him as he cries for mercy. But the mob kept beating him until he died or survived on the verge of death.

Haven’t we seen this play out too many times before? The grainy video on loop, the crazed mob, the helpless target brutally beaten to death as their cries go unanswered. Such violence circulates like banal entertainment across our screens these days. Yet too often you either scroll past quicker, or even take petty pleasure in the violence when the target is a Muslim, a Dalit, or someone branded “other.” Their pain becomes palatable, their life expendable, because they belong to a group that dominant politics has designated for perpetual condemnation and dehumanization. You absorb and accept the violence more readily when it aligns with the majoritarian prejudices being whipped up around you.

While mob lynching has historical precedent across societies, including India, the current spate of lynchings exhibits new alarming dimensions. The frequency of violence has distinctly increased, with little institutional deterrence. The state shows tacit complicity through inaction against perpetrators. Most importantly, the strategic use of new media and digital communication platforms to amplify and viralize these acts differentiate the present wave. Live streams of graphic lynchings, vitriolic hate speeches, mass circulation of edited footage demonizing minorities, anti-Muslim rallies and the highly public demolition of Muslim properties all coalesce to systematically stoke fear and anti-muslim hatred on an unprecedented scale.

The scope now is not just habitual mob excess but an institutionalized machinery that viralizes violence through new media, creating a pervasive atmosphere of religious persecution and fear for Muslims. The combination of state complicity, viral propaganda, and growing majoritarian belligerence distinguishes this spate of violence qualitatively and quantitatively (Mob lynching) from previous historical precedents of communal violence in independent India.

Just this week, a flurry of such incidents has inundated my time line on twitter. A young Muslim man in Assam was lynched to death over cow stealing allegation while his friends critically wounded. An RPF jawan gave a hateful sermon glorifying Modi and Yogi after shooting at point blank a senior colleague and three Muslims after ethnically identifying them in a moving train. In an anti-muslim rally by Bajrang Dal and VHP in Hisar district, local leaders threatened Muslims to leave the area or face dire consequences. In the riot aftermaths in Haryana , authorities delivered Bulldozer justice by razing mostly Muslim shops and homes, thus, punishing victims again.

However, the violence is not just in the bloodied frames. It is in their viral transmission – the insidious way hate mongers leverage new media to terrorize India’s Muslims. The dissemination is strategically designed for maximum psychological impact. Videos of lynchings, hate speeches, rallies calling for violence against minorities particularly Muslims are live streamed to spread the terror of the actual event in real time. They proliferate across platforms to magnify their reach. Mainstream TV news plays them ad nauseum to normalize the horrors. Each replay re-traumatizes the Muslim community, keeping fear fresh. The violence of the footage intertwines with the violence of its distribution.

Even when original footage is not available, clever edits and ominous music are manipulated for sensational effect. Raw images lose context and get embedded into false narratives that vilify victims and venerate aggressors. Reality gets remixed into propaganda. For instance, two days back, many right-wing propaganda accounts shared unverified footages with inflammatory claims that Hindu women in Mewat were abducted and raped en masse from temples by Muslim men. However, the Haryana police and the ADGP have denied these allegations, stating no complaints of rape or sexual assault were filed. Yet these images proliferated, embellished with ominous edits and captions to stoke communal hatred. The raw footage was stripped of context and woven into a dangerous false narrative aimed at whipping up majority anger based on lies, while manufacturing justification for retaliation against Muslims.

Hate speeches calling for horrific acts against Muslim minorities proliferate online, amplified by an ecosystem of extremist sites and voices that provide ideological justification for dehumanization. An atmosphere of looming danger spreads. Scholars like Paul Brass have argued, with extensive evidence, that riots are often preceded by such inflammatory speeches that whip up fear and anti-muslim sentiments. The recent riots in Nuh and Gurgaon reportedly also erupted after speeches that vilified Muslims and called for violence. Time and again, vitriolic rhetoric provides the spark that ignites brutal communal violence.

The incessant incidents of lynchings, riots, hate speeches, anti-muslim rallies relayed online create a mass emotional conditioning – a communal psyche primed through fear. These relentless circulation of violence, spins, and vitriol online conditions entire muslim community over time. It breeds a sense of perpetual anxiety, eroding sentiments of safety and belonging to the extent that self-preservation starts to dictate self-censorship.

When the news cycle confronts you daily with the violent humiliation of your community, a climate of fear becomes internalized. You start policing your own actions and retreating from public spaces to avoid inviting hostility or harm. Speaking up feels fruitless, even dangerous, in a context where your cries find little institutional support.

This is how violence aimed at a vulnerable group socially engineers their own compliance. When public life confronts you daily with evidence of your second-class status, you start to internalize blame, accept violence as inevitable, and fade into the margins. Your participation recedes across every sphere – education, employment, culture.

It is how the Indian Muslim community is steadily invisibilized. Not through physical elimination, but through manufacturing the psychic conditions that compel their own inner withdrawal. The effects are no less chilling than explicit ethnic cleansing.

The volume of vitriol online also implicitly communicates the scale of public sentiment against Muslims. The deluge of posts normalizes hatred as a dominant majority viewpoint, rather than an extremist fringe. When calls for violence go unchallenged on social media by public, civil society and secular political parties, they create an illusion of ubiquitous approval that silences dissenters. This is the insidious psychological warfare at play – new media weaponized to terrorize vulnerable minority groups especially Muslim, demoralize their allies, and portray bigotry as a cultural consensus. The communal conditioning is exponentially amplified online.

But we can disrupt this viral spiral. For every video inciting fear, we can flood the internet with calls for pluralism, love and justice. Hate propagates quickly online, but so does hope. The antidote to anguish is solidarity. We must stand up as a society and reclaim the humanity that demagogues try to strip away through screens and airwaves. The delete key can defeat hate – if enough act in time.

Abdul Moid is a PhD Scholar at Maulana Azad National Urdu University in the Department of Political Science. His area of research interest is in the field of Identity negotiation and Muslim Identity. He holds a postgraduate degree in Political Science from the University of Hyderabad and a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in Political Science from Banaras Hindu University. Prior to his university education, Abdul Moid received his early education in the Madrasa system.

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