A single tweet has the power to spark a huge controversy and divide the internet on the basis of different opinions. Twitter is not just a social media platform today, but the micro blogging site has become a tool that has the power to impact politics too.
We often come across Twitter fights between two political parties or one trolling the other. But how do our politicians actually tweet? What urges them to tweet? Do they censor their tweets? All this and more was discussed at ‘Tweet Your Politics’, a session held at The Symbiosis International (Deemed) University in association with FICCI Flo. The session was a part of Shabdotsav 2018, a literary festival held in the city last weekend and saw political leaders and spokespersons coming together to speak on the subject.
The participants included Dr Sambit Patra, national spokesperson of Bharatiya Janata Party and former medical practitioner, Babul Supriyo, Minister of State for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, Mayank Gandhi, a social activist, previously a member of the core committee in the India Against Corruption movement and an ex-National Executive member of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and Muhammad Khan, advocate at Supreme Court of India and National Media Panelist of the Congress Party as panelists. The session was moderated by Prashant Jha, a journalist and author.
Jha began the session by commenting on the kind of revolution that Twitter has brought in the last few years. “There has been a revolution in the way we communicate today, the way we consume news, and nowhere has this revolution been starkly reflected than in politics. A lot of political discourse and political messaging happens on Twitter today which creates an impact on a larger audience,” said Jha.
Supriyo, while accepting that one needs to have the courage to voice one’s opinion strongly, said that a politician however needs to choose his words carefully while tweeting or commenting. “Kabhi kabhi mere dil me khayal ata hai,’ but the wisdom lies in not putting out everything that comes to your mind on social media for public scrutiny. At times ‘not tweeting’ is the best thing to do. Several thoughts came to my mind during the Padmaavat controversy, the aggression in Karni sena and how Swara (Bhasker) reacted when she saw the film, but as a minister, I have a responsibility, hence I have to stop myself from tweeting on everything that is happening around,” said Supriyo who won the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the BJP candidate from Asansol in West Bengal.
And erstwhile banker and singer, Supriyo said he struggled to create a clear demarcation between a minister and an artist which is why he had to delete his previous Twitter account. “It had tweets that had a lot of pun, humour and jokes on people and things. I deleted the account because you never know when an opposition will refer to those tweets and use them against you even if they were tweeted in a good humour,” he added.
Dr Patra said he believes that as far as Twitter and social media are concerned, the path was shown by PM Modi, who was the then CM of Gujarat. A believer in the fundamental ‘Shabd hi Bramha,’ Patra said it is often difficult for politicians to be cautious about their words. “Whatever you utter, even if it is not heard, it will always stay in the universe, hence what you type and tweet is very important and is going to live forever.
Choosing your words and thoughts carefully before you tweet is needed, so that you don’t regret it later. But having said that, as politicians and spokespersons of political parties, it gets difficult to act civilised on Twitter. From no TV or telephone to one TV or one telephone in the mohalla, to TVs and telephones in every household, we have been a transitional generation. We grew up listening to Salma Sultan, the news anchor on Doordarshan, but times have changed and today ‘The nation wants to listen to you’. Hence we need to be aggressive in our propaganda and tweets,” he explains.
Gandhi, while talking about the downswings of the marriage of Twitter and politics, said, “To some extent, it is this deep chasm that is happening due to two thought processes that are prevailing now — the ruling party and the opposition, which is not healthy for our country. Their clashes, arguments and often hatred in the form of tweets and trolls lead to biases. People bring out their anger, fear, aggression and insecurity on the platform at a time when everything needs to be mild and moderate. Tweets are leading to expressions of extremist view points in a some way.”
He further added that Twitter actually amplifies some of the things that are happening in the real world. “If something is happening in one part of the country, it is made to appear that the whole country is burning. Any Hindu vs Muslim issue takes an ugly shape because of the way people react on Twitter. Exaggeration and magnification of facts and incidents are not very healthy,” he said while talking about the religious differences caused due to politicians and political fanatics fighting on Twitter.
There have been instances like mob lynching, rapes, violence and protests in the country, however, the government chose to keep mum. In such cases, a simple tweet may have kept the situation in control, observed Gandhi. “The Government takes a certain stance and when the stance is challenged, it will not react. If something happens that supports the stance, then it will tweet and try to reflect its opinion and thoughts. So political parties or the government use these incidents as a weapon to get their stance and narrative put across,” concluded Gandhi.