SM4E 2017 was opened for a high-powered and energised panel discussion. The panel on ‘Social Media & Polarisation’ was moderated by Mint Editor Sukumar Ranganathan, and members in the panel were Country  Director Preethi Herman, GoNews Founder-Editor Pankaj Pachauri, Indian Railways DG(PR) Anil Saxena, Huffington Post India Editor-in-Chief Sruthijith KK and Digital India Foundation Co-Founder Arvind Gupta.

The discussion raised varying and interesting points, with a divided house on whether or not social media is polarising communities and if imposing Internet shutdowns or social media bans, particularly in the conflict state of Jammu & Kashmir, is the right way to tackle dissent and spread of possible rumours.

Sukumar stated that we are all mostly interacting with/following those on social media who share the same views as us or whose ideas resonate with ours.

Sruthijit pointed out that violence happened in the country even before the advent of social media but it cannot be denied that social media gives people anonymity to be aggressive. He said, though polarisation has increased in recent times, he thinks social media cannot be blamed for it. Pachauri, however, disagreed and said that if social media was not polarising communities, it would not have been banned in Kashmir. Preethi, meanwhile, pointed out that social media is an inclusive platform that allows dissent, and comes with its pros and cons. Seconding that, Gupta said anything emanating from social media should not be trusted without having verified the same. Representing the government and its utilisation of social media, Saxena pointed out that social media, especially Twitter, has been a particularly useful tool for the Indian railways to address grievances in real time.

The panel discussion managed to create a lot of buzz on Twitter and, at one point of time, #SM4E2017 was trending at No. 5 in India. Tweets from the day are available in this Storify.