This is a guest post by the very talented lawyer Ambanshu Sahni. This is how it goes:
The Jasmine Revolution in 2010-2011 in the Middle East showed us the power of social media. Social media appeared as a tool for righting many wrongs. It was this great unifier before which everyone was equal. It provided a voice to the muted. It provided space to our thoughts and opinions; it gave us a sense of being heard.
Fast forward 10 years and we are far from being heard but, yes, we are a herd! We are knowingly or unknowingly part of herds led by wolves. Our questions, our needs, our demands have been removed from the public discourse, and every day we are provided with a new outrage. We get online we rant, we abuse and we come back. The great unifier has become the greatest divider of the 21st century. It was supposed to be our thing; it was supposed to be the weapon of the ‘have nots’ against the tyrannies. This piece attempts to understand how social media has failed us and how we failed it as citizens.
Daily Mental screw up
Suppose I ask you to laugh for 20 seconds and then ask you be angry for another 20 and then I ask you to cry for another 20 and then admire a beautiful painting for 20 seconds and then I ask you to look at this 20-second cute puppy video and then I suddenly show you a brutal lynching and then for another 20 seconds I make you hear a man abusing someone and then I ask you to repeat the cycle for 3 hours daily. You would say, “Are you trying to screw with my brains?” This appears to be a clear attempt on my part to make you lose your mental faculties. This is exactly what is happening to us at 100 Mbps speed. The high-speed internet, the ever imaginative apps, and our twitter-facebook feeds do exactly that, we go through a range of emotions within fractions of second, maybe I have seen too many Hindi movies but the so-called Pagal (Mentally challenged) depicted in those movies used to go through that many emotions in such a short period. Not only does it affect our attention span but it reduces our ability to think and in addition to this it encourages herd mentality. We consume too much information in little time and don’t have time to reflect. More often than not our opinions are based on one-sided half baked information.
Memes replacing books and newspaper
Today we see the most complex issues of economics, national security, and even science is reduced to memes. A photograph carrying two lines or more attempts at cheap humor and in the process reduces the nuance of the issue at hand to zilch. No matter how tangled the webs are these memes try to simplify it, a process that they fail most of the time. This might appear to be a pro-government example but take for example : ‘Petrol Price rise’; here we see various memes criticizing the government, we laugh at them, and in process we also form an opinion regarding the same. The process of petrol pricing is complex and is market-driven but we tend to understand through the eyes of a memer or his understanding. The meme was probably made without any seriousness or maybe with an agenda. Another example is fall of UPA 2; if you look closely the fall of UPA 2, it coincided with the rise of Whatsapp, Facebook, and twitter. Every day we were flooded with memes on corruption, on petrol price rise and other issues. The end result saw a regime change but was there a systemic change the answer is NO! There has not been a single conviction in the “corruption” cases of the UPA era. The rapes are still happening in India. People have forgotten about the joy of reading books. The newspaper is a thing of past now and social media is the culprit here. Our laziness towards reading has allowed social media to control our thoughts and action.
The Internet never forgets: The age of no step back
Recently Shashi Tharoor took out an old tweet of Actor Anupam Kher which talked about questioning the Government. The actor who was an open critic of the Government during UPA has turned supporter of the present regime. The said tweet talked about questioning the government whenever it’s wrong. The message of the tweet holds good no matter which party is in power but the actor went on defensive and things got ugly from there. But I digress; the political parties and politicians can take hard stances because they are committed to an ideology or so they should be but we the citizens why do we harden our stance? We do that because the internet never forgets because we have taken a public stance and this era of machismo we cannot take a step back. We are by such actions hurting ourselves and the democracy the most, the citizens are patriots and son soil and such other things but they are Consumers too and are being provided a service by the Government. When we fail to question the service provider for poor service we are harming ourselves too. Not only we fail to question the government for its failures but due to our previous stance, we openly defend transgression of our rights by the state. I mean the one thing that was common to us Indians was our love for cricket and hate for our political class. I am not saying hate your political class, but also feel free to question them when he steps out of line, I mean haven’t we all questioned authority in our schools our colleges does that mean we hate our school or college or our principals and teachers personally? Let the Internet remember but you don’t forget your questions will strengthen the democracy not weaken it.
Silver lining and other things
It is not as if social media is all bad. It has shown its power the most in helping out the distressed during a national calamity. The messaging is fast and effective and the problems get sorted in hours. The social media has reached deep into our villages and has forced our babus to make social media accounts. These accounts have encouraged accountability. Some of the IAS officers have put social media into innovative use and delivered exceptionally. Late External Affairs Minister Sushama Swaraj used social media to become the savior of many stranded in foreign lands. In the present time, it is helping us stay in touch with our loved ones. If the above usage of social media does not work for you there is always a puppy video. So there is no straight solution to the problem at hand. I feel a reduction in screen time, softening of stance, and questioning and ensuring accountability would ensure better use of social media.