Live video of an Indian Army operation captured by a civilian
“Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket. Anyone with a phone now has the power to broadcast to anyone in the world.” said Zuckerberg Mark, Facebook CEO and co-founder, in a post announcing that the company was launching Facebook Live for “everyone” to ‘create, share and discover live videos’.
Facebook today allows any user to live-stream video from their phones, a service it started in 2010 for a limited user base. As the live videos have gained audience, some have questioned the company over the control of its contents or rather the lack of. These voices have grown louder in the backdrop of the Cleveland murder case. The ethics of live-streaming deaths or assaults is questionable, especially since there have been instances such as the case when teenage boys in Chicago live-streamed the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl or when a 18 year old was gagged, bound and beaten up live. Apart from these are the instances from India when suicides were live-streamed.
These give credence to the question as to what warrants having such a feature. This is not necessarily owing to the mistake of the technology involved as much as the nature of society today and the sensibilities or rather the lack of it in the people in present times. Apart from the above ethical concerns raised about Facebook Live or in addition to those are the law and order and security concerns.
In Kashmir, Facebook Live has become a tool used to re-invent public opinion, push narratives and to further amplify calls for violence. Kashmiri youth have shown an increasing inclination to use Facebook and Facebook Live to organize crowds, instigate others and to shape public perception on a real time basis. And this is becoming an increasingly common and popular trend going by the many instances when such live streaming has been taking place of security operations as well as of protests.
Infuriated by the videos, more people turn up in large numbers, getting pulled into the conflicts like moths to a flame. They inadvertently end up eventually being pushed into the eye of the storm and take bullets, thereby adding further fuel to a state already trying to douse fire.
Consider the following Live video streams. “Aap ye dekh sakte hain goliyan kaise chal rahi hai. Civilians apni jaan bacha rahe hain… Ek bhaai ko goli lagi hai”, ran the commentary on a April 12th video from south Kashmir’s Kulgam district as the person streaming the video crossed the field towards the people who were carrying a person allegedly hit by bullet. Another video, supposedly of around the same time a youth could be seen running towards a ditch and checking his knees for bullet wound while others shout “Allahu Akbar”. Yet another video show some youths throwing stones at the armed forces some distance away. These were thus not innocent bystanders. These were sections of the local populace, mostly young men and boys who were actively trying to stall security operations by resorting to stone pelting when attempts to flush out militants were being undertaken.
The live video streaming in such instances thus serves a specific purpose. It is a well thought out weapon not just to weave together a counter narrative but also to organize more crowds and instigate and propel others into action further deteriorating the climate.
In the specific case of April 12th, the killing of the four alleged militants in south Kashmir’s Kulgam district later triggered a wave of protests by crowds which had gathered from nearby villages upon spread of news of the encounter. Videos of these clashes at Frisal in Kulgam — marked by firing of bullets and tear gas shells — were also virtually broadcast on Facebook in real time .
The statement issued by the LeT chief Mehmood Shah about the dead militants read, “Forces got frustrated by the courage shown by the militants and with the result, they opened fire on the innocent people killing two civilians and injuring dozens”. It is such narratives, trying to demonize the armed forces and valorise the slain militants and the civilians needlessly succumbing by getting caught in between, which act as fodder to bring more protesters. The many video streams try to get supporters for such narratives.
Caught in between are the armed forces who are caught between reacting with force to the taunts and stone pelting or paying with higher fatalities if they don’t. While acknowledging that the hostile conduct of locals was causing higher casualties in the Valley, the army chief Bipin Rawat had stated that people providing support for the militants would be dealt with sternly.
For instance, in February 2017, soldiers faced heavy stone-pelting at Parray Mohalla of Bandipore in northern Kashmir when they were about to launch an operation against holed-up militants. Alerted by the many stone-pelters, militants lobbed hand grenades and emptied a few magazines from rifles into the advancing troopers. This left three soldiers dead and some others injured.
It is into this already complex scenario that Facebook Live and its live-streaming comes in. It poses a law and order problem as the overground supporters and informers for the militants can now be as innocuous looking as the mobile phone used to live stream videos of operations for the benefit of the militants. Such outside inputs could lead to increased risk of failure of operations and increasing casualty rates for the forces.
Facebook’s otherwise harmless seeming feature thus adds fuel to fire in the conflict zone by posing real threats to the lives of the forces by attracting more protestors, revealing operational details and vitiating the atmosphere. This presents an added challenge for maintaining law and order and security in the perilous region.