West Bengal Police have initiated an “online neighbourhood watch” that will keep track of “offensive material” on social media and sound an alert when required. The move comes in the wake of a Facebook post containing derogatory material that triggered communal violence in Basirhat area of North 24 Parganas district. Jagaddal police station under Barrackpore Police Commissionerate has started the pilot project, which involves training youths in cyber law and technicalities of social media. “The aim is to track posts that incite communal tension through social media. We have just initiated this, and are awaiting the results. This will enable us to track and arrest offenders fast,” said Subrata Kumar Mitra, Police Commissioner (Barrackpore Police Commissionerate). The move is in tune with CM Mamata Banerjee’s recent announcement that the administration would form ‘Shanti Vahini’ (peace army) in all neighbourhoods to thwart communal clashes.
Jagaddal police station has initiated recruitment for the pilot project. A Facebook page —‘Combat Cyber Rumor’ — has also been set up. “It works on the concept of neighbourhood watch, but in cyber space. Already, 30 youths have approached us to be part of the team. More requests are pouring in. After a brief training, the youths will keep track of offensive posts and people who share such posts repeatedly,” said Sanjiv Chakravorty, officer-in-charge of Jagaddal police station.
The team, with the help of police personnel, will conduct seminars and workshops in schools, clubs and neighbourhoods to spread awareness on the dangers of posting and sharing offensive material. Informants can keep their identities hidden, police said, adding that those wishing to alert officers can do so via email. “If successful, the project will be initiated in all police stations of West Bengal. It is posts on social media that sparked a number of communal clashes, including in Bashirhat,” said Bibhas Chatterjee, special public prosecutor for cyber crimes (state) and an expert in cyber laws. “It is not possible for police to keep track of all posts and shares on social media. So we are involving tech-savvy youths . They will be trained in basic cyber laws. They will track offensive posts and flag repeat offenders to the police, who will take action,” said Chatterjee.