Christians and other religious minorities across India are reporting a growing climate of intolerance and intrusion using social media like Facebook and WhatsApp.
This is one of the findings of in the recently published report "Destructive Lies - Disinformation, speech that incites violence and discrimination against religious minorities in India" and is a trend reported by Christian workers across the country.
"When you go to this social media, for example WhatsApp, there's so many videos," Reena Verma, a Christian worker who partners with the charity Open Doors in India told Premier. "Very influential leaders talk about how Christianity is degrading the society."
She says this religious propaganda has noticeably affected attitudes to religious minorities.
"Previously people were very supportive of Christians. Now, if I introduce myself as a Christian, the first reaction would be, "Oh, you are a Christian? How much money did you get to convert?"
The warnings come as India marks the 74th anniversary of independence.
According to the findings of Destructive Lies commissioned by Open Doors and carried out by researchers at the LSE, social media platforms are being used to coordinate and then share violent vigilante attacks against Christians:
"One of the first things that vigilante mobs do is to snatch phones, so the victims are unable to document violence, while perpetrators unfailingly make digital records of their own violent actions and then post it to various social media platforms. These posts advertise the perpetrators to other Hindutva groups and politicians as bold Hindu nationalists and consolidate their reputation for safeguarding Hinduism."
The report states that attacks and misinformation appear to be part of a systematic campaign by extremist Hindu nationalist of Hindutva groups, including the right-wing nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS, who have strong ties with influential politicians and local authorities, including law enforcement - meaning that such attacks generally happen without any repercussions for the attackers.
The report makes a number of recommendations for social media owners to clamp down on the current misuse.
"What is really shocking is how un-seriously this is being taken by social media companies who support human rights," says the unnamed co-author of Destructive Lies. "They should take it as seriously as if Christians were being persecuted in the U.S. or in the UK, applying the same standards to what is happening in India, which happens to be the biggest market. Just because they want profit from the Indian market, they should not allow bloodshed to take place!"
Director of Advocacy at Open Doors UK & Ireland, Dr David Landrum said in a statement: "As India celebrates its independence it is a tragedy that the original unifying vision is being lost to a divisive culture of Hindutva extremism. With the use of new technologies to incite and direct violence the situation is deteriorating fast for India's religious minorities. I hope that the report recommendations for greater online accountability will acted upon."