Social Media & Discourse in India

India has grown lot more argumentative in the last 10 years, or at least it seems so. No one can claim a greater role in this than social media. It actually turned media into a medium of collective communication. The hallowed idea of writing letters to the newspaper editors was dethroned and what emerged is a line of communication that’s more direct and instantly gratifying. The nation not only found a favourite medium to agree, disagree and question someone’s pedigree, but also discovered a new generation of humourists, pacifists and extremists.

Change in the Pattern of Using Social Media

More than anything else, social media brought out the alter ego of India. The grace of an aspiring nation and the optimism over its development story somehow got diluted by needless aggression and parochial observations disseminated through different platforms. Indians have been downloading WhatsApp, creating Twitter handles and Instagram accounts, but all this while they shied away from understanding the real use of these mediums. When BBC anchor Jeremy Paxman objected to the idea of joining social media, he got a fitting reply from Jon Snow: “Social media is about about discovering something worthy and sharing it with the world”. Instead, we turned into a Frankestein who never paused to think what he ought to do.

When I recollect those spring days of social media, I fondly remember how people used to make the most of social media by putting forth news, pointing out factual errors of news channels, contributing towards trending an issue and finding a space in mainstream media. The diversity of voices and quality of exchanges were fascinating.

Social media helped ideas to change hands fast but it also helped hatred to spread with equal ease. When I see people with little knowledge (which is a dangerous thing in itself) pandering to a particular section of people with vilifying messages, it makes me stop and think, “what man has made of man”. Anyone can spoil a well-argued discussion by barging in the middle of a conversation, heaping abuses and yet hide behind the tweet or the Facebook post. When noise can win over neutral observation and information, any well-meaning social media user will feel dispirited.

Is India mature enough to use Social Media?

I didn’t have any qualms when Facebook popularised the term ‘Unlike’ to mean withdrawing one’s ‘Like’ or approval of a post. I didn’t cringe a bit to see people attacking those who don’t ascribe to their political views. What was annoying was the fact that troublemakers on social media were actually becoming newsmakers. Discussions on scandalous videos, Chief Minister calling Prime Minister a ‘psychopath’ and an author asking “What do historians do?” (taking dig at those returning their Sahitya Academy awards), did lower the standard of discourse.

However, I must admit that social media has exposed Janus-faced Indians. It is here you will find radicals hounding the free thinkers and liberals removing their masks and endorsing extremist views. What’s dismissed as jingoism today is hailed as patriotism the next day. You cannot claim to be mature when you go all out to show your courage under the cover of anonymity. Hatred towards diverse opinions is meekness, which tweets and FB posts unambiguously reveal.

A year back, Shilpa Srivastava, my senior colleague, had tweeted, “Crows in my area should be gagged”. Perhaps, I could understand where she was coming from. There’s a connotation that one should not miss. Her timeline, like most of us, must have been so full of crass comments that she wanted a break from this cawing. She knew that her attempts at bringing method to the madness will yield no result. She had unwittingly summed up the moral: Don’t be a part of the herd, because then you run the risk of not being heard.

 

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