December 18, 2019 / 5:29 PM / in 2 months

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

* Instagram offers privacy, escape from trolling

* Facebook, WhatsApp also used for mobilizing protests

By Sankalp Phartiyal and Sachin Ravikumar

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU, Dec 18 (Reuters) - As protests rage across Indian universities against a new citizenship law, students have taken to social media to wage battle online and 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’s Jamia Millia Islamia University.

“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 (CAA), with students at the forefront.

Approved by India’s president 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 University, leaving some 200 injured.

Current and former students have taken to Instagram, a photo and video sharing platform known for lifestyle content, to express their disapproval.

“We millennials are always active on Instagram,” said Islam Mirza, who completed a masters in business administration at Jamia 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 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 where 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 Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Chinese firm ByteDance’s TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, is also being used to voice 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 burqa, shouting slogans to a cheering crowd of hundreds outside Jamia University’s main gate.

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.” (Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in MUMBAI and Sachin Ravikumar, Chandini Monnappa, Derek Francis in BENGALURU; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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