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On the night of January 5, it was #SOSJNU hashtag on Instagram that alerted not just students but also media when a group of masked goons with iron rods entered the campus beating students.

“A friend who studies there recorded videos and shared pictures of the violence on her Instagram asking for help. I immediately shared the post and tagged as many people possible," said Pooja Sharma, a second year student at Delhi University.

Students argued that all times they have access to a smartphone and mobile internet which allows them to documenting the events live and express their views.

Facebook owned photo sharing app Instagram has seen its popularity soar in India among young users, especially so during the ongoing protests against anti- Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). Although Facebook doesn’t divulge its official user base data, Germany based data-research firm Statista stated that India has second biggest Instagram userbase with 73 million users as of October 2019. Unlike Twitter which has been a hotbed for anonymous fake accounts, Instagram has become the go to platform for young users. There are multiple reasons that aid its popularity – it is audio visual heavy, has features that enable privacy and brief posts and a chat platform.

“Between 42% to 45% of both Instagram and TikTok users are between the age group of 16 and 24 years. Therefore, both these platforms are highly lucrative for students to voice their opinions with massive reach of around 355 million," said Prashant Puri, co-founder and chief executive of digital marketing agency AdLift.

With massive reach and potential to create viral content, the need to maintain accuracy is a challenge social media and digital platforms have been struggling with. However, Tameel Hussain, social media expert and founder of mobile storytelling platform Pluc noted that Instagram stories and posts played a major role in informing people about the protests with fact checking fake news and fake posts going viral.

“Story format inspired by Snapchat solves that issue because people have been following credible Instagram profiles for months or years and for them the opinions on such accounts matter," he added.

Instagram pages by student organizations, NGOs, civil society and individual student accounts mobilized people, offered legal and medical help and informed about details of protest venues through the platform.

“When it comes to basic information, whereabouts of my friends, detention information Instagram became easiest way to connect and coordinate. My usage started for practical reasons such as coordinating for protests and ensuring safety of fellow protesters," said Urmi Duggal, 25, first year student of Master's in Psychology Ambedkar University who has been actively participating in the anti-CAA protests.

Social media platforms have unified the student community like never before where it can track, express solidarity and share views on what is happening across different universities.

“I don’t have to be present in Lucknow to tell the stories of students who are protesting there. This is a generation of Inshorts where youth wants quick and lucid news pieces. Audio visual is a very powerful medium which explains the popularity of Instagram," said Shrijan Chawla, first year student of mass communication course at Jamia Milia Islamia.

Tara Bedi, public policy and community outreach manager, Instagram, India said that with a global community of over one billion users, Instagram is now also a space for positive dialogue around important civic matters and discussions around citizenship.

“We've seen this with #MeToo debate, with the discussions around the national elections this year and now with CAA. We will continue to ensure Instagram's a place for safe-self-expression, not just with our safety and expression tools, and community guidelines, but also by increasingly combating misinformation; like the recent global expansion of our fact-checking program to allow fact-checking organizations around the world to assess and rate misinformation on Instagram," she added.

On short video app TikTok it’s the hashtags helped in the discovery of content with multiple video posts of protests often accompanied with background songs appearing on user timelines. One quick search for hashtags such as #CAASupport #CAAprotests #NRCprotests #standwithjnu collectively throw up millions of video posts.

“People have been using TikTok to disseminate videos on the protest. It’s great to see mobile storytelling have offline impact in India and this power can be harnesssed for good," noted Pluc’s Hussain.

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