Social media has given rise to “MULTIMEDIA JIHAD”. It has now culminated into the most potent weapon for the changing dynamics of terrorism especially in the Union Territory of J & K. Terrorism now, needs no barbarous ways to highlight itself in the print media as it did before. The never-ending availability of terrorism in the form of impression-generating pictures and videos on social media has similar output as before. Such content, consumed mostly by young Kashmiris has swarmed the popular culture of J&K. It has given rise to a major problem for security forces to fight virtual jihad in a cyber domain. In Dec 2015, Lashkar-e-Taiba Chief Hafeez Sayeed made a cyber cell, following the ideas of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) realizing the reach of social media radicalization. The sole purpose was to fan out and disseminate its own ideologies and it was partly successful in invoking violence in the Valley.
Burhan Wani was once considered a tech stalwart of Kashmir. He joined Hizbul Mujahideen in 2010 itself and swiftly came to limelight in 2013 after he evoked popularity over social media. After Burhan Wani’s death, Hizbul Mujahideen was taken over by Sabzar Bhat. As his pictures and videos started gaining support over social media, Sabzar Bhat went from being “someone from somewhere” to a popular public figure.
Terrorism started as early as 1980s in Kashmir. Since then, it has seen drastic changes including that in the modus operandi, use of latest equipment’s and now the latest trend comprises of target killings of civilians. All this has been done to take the battle into virtual space. Now-a-days, encryption is frequently used for publishing new content through social media, e.g. last words of militants trapped in an encounter waiting for their end, their phone call recordings with their dear ones, videos of training sessions in remote forests of South Kashmir; selfies depicting the ‘brotherhood’ in the midst of their training, pictures of militants enjoying themselves and playing in the open fields of the Valley. This has demanded an immediate response by security forces in the cyber domain.
Social media has now become a weapon of war instead of just being it’s original reason of emergence- a mere tool for communication. It is now handy for the recruitment of local militants. Hizbul Mujahideen had launched a propaganda campaign, inviting more youth of Kashmir to join terrorism on the first death anniversary of Burhan Wani. This campaign was similar to those of Army and Police wherein, selection centres are over-crowded with candidates and several return feeling dejected after rejection.
Social media has also become a tool for agitation, planning, funding and carrying out terror activities. Terrorism has been on a rise in teen groups. Now-a-days there is no longer the requirement of complex planning for recruitment and other activities. Social Media has provided them with a platform to radicalize and instigate the youth to accomplish particular tasks by sending messages, pictures and videos. The militants use this content to spread the call of jihad and inspire the youth to join their ranks. What we can define as Virtual Jihad – is now being propagated in virtual space.
Although social media is being used quite effectively by terrorists to spread discontent, irrational dissent and fear amongst the local population, security forces are using it against them smartly and more efficiently than them, conversely to spread positive messages to uplift the situation in the valley. Social media is being used to motivate youth to join better opportunities waiting in outside world. It is also being used in making local population aware about the misinformation being spread by terrorists. As terrorists are using it to glamourize their leaders, in the same manner it is being used by security forces to portray local people as role models who are making battling the conducive conditions in the valley through positive contributions to the society.Moreover, it is also being used to detect terrorist-related activities online, collecting electronic records and identifying suspects. There have been numerous cases in the past wherein terrorists were captured and their ops failed because of their activities being successfully tracked in cyber domain. In addition to plugging the porosity of the Line of Control, Indian Army has established information superiority in the virtual space, which aims to deny the ISI and their proxies the ability to use various communication platforms to their advantage. It is helping us in the acquisition of uninterrupted real time intelligence which is critical for proactive measures to be taken to stop spread of misinformation by terrorist organisations.
Security forces have devised very efficient methods to make the best use of social media. On one hand, it has ensured that no classified information of defence forces is transferred in cyber space, at the same time it has spread its narrative in the valley in the best possible way. This has been done by banning certain applications and at the same time allowing access to limited and responsible appointments at unit and subunit levels.
Social media is being used to portray an acceptance of gun culture and also to instigate terrorism among the young populace. It has changed the scenario of “classical battlefield”. There is a swarm of cyber warriors who keep the aim alive in the minds of the young populace. However, the major task in front of security forces is to disrupt and prevent the development of localized extremist hubs, monitor activities of influencers and intercept misinformation being spread in cyber domain.