Fighting political battles on foreign made platforms is a blunder!

ROHIT CHANDAVARKAR
Saturday, 9 September 2017

While one cannot deny that there are many positive and pleasant elements being regularly posted on social media by thousands of members of our society, at crucial times like what we had last week, the exhibition of extreme polarisation and hatred reaches alarming and worrying levels.

A friend and former colleague, who holds a senior position at Facebook, mentioned recently to me, that data proves that an average urban Indian young or middle aged Facebook user today spends close to 100 minutes every day on Facebook (FB). That kind of time perhaps is not spent on any other communication media by Indians. And what do these young and middle aged urban Indians do on FB? Apart from having the usual communication with their ‘friends’ on this medium, they either try to influence others or get influenced by somebody.

Research shows that most of the 'influence making' is market driven or profit motive driven. So people may be influenced to get into online shopping for a particular commodity or they may be influenced to watch a particular movie or influenced to go out to a particular restaurant. But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that since the past few months, the biggest element of creating influence, being driven on Facebook and other social media, is political propaganda.

After the gruesome killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru earlier this week, what was experienced on social media such as Facebook and Twitter was sheer nonsensical smear campaign from both sides of the political divide. The brash, insensitive and arrogant statements or expressions coming out from supporters of the right wing ideology as well as some unparliamentary expressions being posted by the left wing supporters and senior members of the opposition Congress party, both just stunned the ordinary civilised urban netizens. As mentioned at the beginning of the piece, if people are spending close to two hours a day on social media and most of the time getting into slander like this, it perhaps is a signal that our society is going towards a very unhealthy environment.

While one cannot deny that there are many positive and pleasant elements being regularly posted on social media by thousands of members of our society, at crucial times like what we had last week, the exhibition of extreme polarisation and hatred reaches alarming and worrying levels. The relative anonymity that social media provides to those who can post anything that they want and remain unaccountable, is damaging the Indian society.

Last week, a group of youngsters was arrested by police in south Maharashtra city of Sangli for claiming on Whatsapp that riots had broken out in some parts of Maharashtra and posting fake or outdated videos to support that claim!

Clearly, social media is on the verge of becoming a monster because most Indians (not all) seem to have lost the sense of balance and proportion while using it. Hundreds of messages coming on your mobile phone every day with visuals and videos to influence your mind in some way is clearly a massive information overload. Just because the use of social media comes at no cost, Indians are seen abusing it to the hilt. What is worse is that the right wing versus left liberals fight is being fought out on a platform created by private firms based in foreign countries.

All the data about your political, religious or social leanings are getting recorded somewhere on a foreign server. The real debate about how our economy is doing, what job creation has happened and how we can shape ourselves as a global superpower somewhere in the future based on our economic growth, is all completely sidelined and we spend hours and hours every week to prove how our side of the political ideology is correct and superior.

While one cannot deny that there are many positive and pleasant elements being regularly posted on social media by thousands of members of our society, at crucial times like what we had last week, the exhibition of extreme polarisation and hatred reaches alarming and worrying levels. The relative anonymity that social media provides to those who can post anything that they want and remain unaccountable, is damaging the Indian society. 

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