Delhi Durga Temple vandalised: Row over parking snowballed into Twitter war, revealing how right-wingers exploit social media's vulnerabilities

  • A section of Bharatiya Janata Party supporters, including party leaders like MLA Kapil Mishra and BJP Delhi's IT and social media cell head Punit Agarwal, shared several tweets fanning communal tension online over the vandalism incident

  • According to Huffington Post India, 'in a five minute period at noon on July 2 2019, a storm of just 500 tweets with this hashtag reached a potential audience of 300,000 accounts

  • Twitter storm is a mix of a few influencers with large followings, and frenetic activity by accounts with barely any followers who churned out hundreds of tweets — suggesting what Twitter and Facebook call 'coordinated inauthentic behaviour'

A spat over parking a scooter in Delhi's Chawri Bazaar led to the vandalising of a temple which in turn snowballed into a communal controversy following misdirected rage on social media. Police arrested two and apprehended a minor on vandalism charges.

A section of Bharatiya Janata Party supporters, including party leaders like MLA Kapil Mishra and BJP Delhi's IT and social media cell head Punit Agarwal, shared several tweets fanning communal tension online over the vandalism incident. A deluge of tweets with the hashtag #TempleTerrorAttack, #TempleAttacked and #TempleDestroyed were tweeted and retweeted and on 2 July was trending as one of the top Twitter trends. According to an exclusive report by Huffington Post India, "in a five minute period at noon on July 2 2019, a storm of just 500 tweets with this hashtag reached a potential audience of 300,000 accounts."

Reports quoted residents from the Chawri area who said, "We have spoken to each other on the issue and decided that the 'aman committee' (peace committee) would bear the expenses to renovate the vandalised temple."

"We want peace in the area as it was earlier. We condemn the incident and the culprits, who have vandalised the temple, must be punished," a resident of the area Jamshed Siddiqui said.

Bittoo, who was also present during the talks, told Press Trust of India, "People from both the communities are living here happily for many decades. The market will be opened on Wednesday and the locals will bring back peace with the help of each other."

"In the meeting, it has been decided that the culprits must be punished. Everybody will live peacefully and the market will be opened from Wednesday," Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Mandeep Singh Randhawa told Press Trust of India.

But there was a different war being waged on Twitter.

The HuffPost report stated that according to their early findings, which are restricted to real-time trends analysis using tools that parse the deluge of Twitter traffic for insights, suggested that the Twitter storm is a mix of a few influencers with large followings, and frenetic activity by accounts with barely any followers who churned out hundreds of tweets — suggesting what Twitter and Facebook call "coordinated inauthentic behaviour".

The report added that the microblogging site is optimised for virality, a vulnerability used by political parties to leverage their network of supporters, and other means to manipulate the news.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad volunteers visited the area during the day and demanded arrest of those who vandalised the temple. Prayers were also held, but outside the temple premises amid huge police presence. VHP's Delhi unit working president Alok Kumar met Police Commissioner Amulya Patnaik and demanded the arrest of the culprits.

A team led Kumar told Patnaik that there could be a "larger design" behind the incident to "change the demography of the area". Police personnel and paramilitary forces continue to be present in the area. Sanjeev Gupta, who was at the centre of the whole incident, said when Aas Mohammad parked his scooter outside the building, he asked him to remove it as it was blocking a path commonly used by people.

 Delhi Durga Temple vandalised: Row over parking snowballed into Twitter war, revealing how right-wingers exploit social medias vulnerabilities"Thereafter, he, along with other persons, who were drunk, started beating me. In the meantime, I called police and narrated them the incident. Police took me and Aas Mohammad to police station where the issue of scuffle was resolved," Gupta said.

"I just want those who vandalised the temple to renovate it and help everyone to maintain peace in the locality as it was earlier," he said.

Rahul Kashyap (26), a local who works at a private company, said, "We want police to take action against people who vandalised the temple and ask them to renovate it as soon as possible."

"The idols in the temple have been vandalised and we cannot worship there until the new idols are placed," said Aniket Mehra (26), who has a business of catering.

Mufti Mukarram Ahmad, Shahi Imam of Fateh Puri Masjid also condemned the incident.

"The act is condemnable and no one has the right to vandalise or hurt the religious sentiment of any person. The RWA of Lal Kuan area would bear the expense of the temple and I appeal to the locals to help each other in maintaining peace. Please do not believe in the rumours," said the Shahi Imam.

Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan, the local MP, also visited the spot and reviewed the security situation. He said police will take necessary actions.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia appealed to people to not believe in rumours and maintain peace. "Delhi will win and hatred will lose." Former Union minister Vijay Goel, who has represented the Chandni Chowk constituency twice, accused the AAP of using the incident for political gains.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 21:10:51 IST