From the Editor-in-Chief: And what about 'festivals for all?'

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No matter how you may like to spin it, there is no getting around the fact that what we have witnessed centring this year's Durga Puja, set to conclude later today, represented a low point in communal relations in the country for a generation. Certainly the entire period since 2009, with the Awami League continuously in power as the lead component in three successive coalition governments, offered no precedent that could possibly prepare us for what was coming - possibly coordinated activity among religious zealots and other criminal elements in multiple districts across the country to try and undermine the most comprehensive celebration of the Sanatan Dharma's unique resonance with the lands in which it originated.

The formula of course, we always knew to be in place from the isolated incidents of communal violence that have dotted the last twelve years. There was Ramu, Nasirnagar, and various other places. Even Cumilla itself, earlier this year.

We could have guessed that social networks, particularly Facebook, would be at the centre of it all, and here it becomes imperative to note the words of Frances Haugen, the former executive at the company who has become something of a cause celebre since turning into a whistleblower. Troves of internal data, running into thousands of pages and terabytes of data, that Haugen took with her and started sharing with the Wall Street Journal in May, reveal how the company that started out as a way for friends to connect and stay in touch on college campuses across the US, knowingly operates a set of algorithms on its site that amplify political unrest, misinformation, and hate. We certainly have seen enough examples of Facebook's potential to be misused by society's malcontents by now to support the calls for the US Congress to end the self-regulating model it has mostly allowed for its social media giants till now. No matter what other countries may try and do (say the defiance they've tried in the EU and currently in Australia), it hardly needs elaboration that these companies simply won't feel the pinch to reign themselves or the dangers of their platforms in till their home jurisdiction acts to force them down that path.

For the longest time, the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey have tried to shield themselves under the cover of obscure algorithm that are written for one purpose but come with some unintended consequences. Like 'collateral damage' in their line of work, and not something they had a direct choice in. But we now know from Haugen's revelations that they do. They choose not to for the sole pursuit of profit, at least in Haugen's estimation, but their acknowledged role in everything from harming the mental health of young girls to perpetrating a brutal genocide surely makes the public interest in how it operates its business sufficiently large to at least compete with its fudiciary duty towards shareholders.

Coming back to our own role in all this though, our policing must too must contain a greater component of defusing tensions. It becomes increasingly glaring that beyond the resort to violent methods, our policemen come equipped with few other options when called in to deal with a situation. And the situations are varied and myriad.

  • 'festivals for all
  • Durga Puja
  • Sanatan Dharma
  • Cumilla Incident

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