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US-based nonprofit Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) has responded to a recent report by Rutgers University-New Brunswick on ‘Anti-Hindu Disinformation: A Case Study of Hinduphobia on Social Media’, saying it is misleading in several parts and that it passes off factual news items as disinformation.
In a statement issued July 19, HfHR says, “While the first part of the report contains some important findings about the scope and proliferation of anti-Hindu hatred in online extremist circles, the rest of the report is marred by serious factual and ethical failings that appear to bolster a misleading, ideologically-driven narrative about anti-Hindu sentiment and call into question the motivations of the report’s authors.”
It adds, “It appears that the vast majority of these examples are, in fact, not “disinformation,” but rather undeniable facts about the current situation in India. For example, the report notes that during the 2018 visit of Iran’s president to India, “Iranian trolls tweeted 1,053 times about human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir,” apparently implying that tweeting about these violations constitutes “Hinduphobic disinformation”—despite the fact that the Indian government and military’s human rights abuses in Kashmir have been documented by the likes of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and have drawn condemnation from both the United Nations and American lawmakers.”
On July 12, the Network Contagion Lab at Rutgers University–New Brunswick had released a report entitled “Anti-Hindu Disinformation: A Case Study of Hinduphobia on Social Media.” The report, presented by the Network Contagion Lab (a project of the Network Contagion Research Institute) in conjunction with Rutgers’ Center for Critical Intelligence Studies and Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience, said it applies “large scale quantitative methods to examine the spread of anti-Hindu disinformation within a wide variety of social media platforms and showcases an explosion of anti-Hindu tropes” on these platforms.
indica had reported on the study here.
In its statement, HfHR said, “The report refers to a so-called “information operation” in which “Iranian trolls proclaimed theories about Hindus murdering Muslims on the streets of Delhi in bloodthirsty, brutal ways” during the 2020 Delhi riots, which the authors claim “is particularly illustrative of the ways in which anti-Hindu disinformation can be leveraged geostrategically.” The tweets in question, however, can hardly be characterized as “anti-Hindu disinformation,” regardless of the fact that they were sent by state-backed troll accounts. Of the four tweets provided as evidence in the report (see below), not one contains any false or fabricated information—on the contrary, the horrific violence of the 2020 riots, which were incited by the inflammatory speeches of a Hindu nationalist politician, has been well-documented, and police records show that over three-quarters of those killed in the violence belonged to the Muslim minority. To dismiss these demonstrable facts as mere “theories” and “anti-Hindu disinformation,” as the authors of the report have done, is patently false.”
The authors of the study are yet to respond. This report will be updated once the researchers issue a statement.
The HfHR statement also calls into question the ideological affiliations of the authors, alleging that this has colored the study’s conclusions.
It states, “Finally, we are also concerned by the undisclosed affiliations of the individuals behind this report, and we would be remiss in failing to note the fact that two of the report’s five named authors have documented ties to organizations aligned with the Hindu far-right. Prasiddha Sudhakar, the student researcher whose name appears on the report, is the president of the Rutgers chapter of the Hindu Students Council (HSC), while another author, Parth Parihar, is the general secretary of the national HSC. The HSC was founded in the 1980s to be the student arm of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), which itself is the American wing of India’s Hindu supremacist Vishwa Hindu Parishad—a group which in 2018 was classified in the CIA World Factbook as a “militant religious organization” and has been linked to deadly hate violence.”
It adds, “While the membership of the report’s authors in a particular organization certainly does not disqualify them from conducting research, we are nevertheless concerned by the authors’ failure to disclose their affiliations with the Hindu right via the HSC—especially given the HSC’s long history of espousing positions that are closely aligned with Hindutva ideology—while still presenting this report as an example of supposedly unbiased, data-driven scholarship. This obfuscation, whether intentional or not, raises serious ethical concerns when combined with the other glaring failures outlined above, and calls into question the Network Contagion Research Institute’s claims of being a “neutral and independent third party” with “no political agenda, profit motive, or university reporting obligations.”
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