Mr Obama, you have just hit the nail on its head!

Rohit Chandavarkar
Saturday, 30 December 2017

In obvious but veiled criticism against the current President of the United States, former president Barak Obama has made some comments that are very relevant not just to political leaders and celebrities in the US but also to those in India.

Obama gave a serious warning against the divisive use of social media by ‘some’, including many politicians.

In obvious but veiled criticism against the current President of the United States, former president Barak Obama has made some comments that are very relevant not just to political leaders and celebrities in the US but also to those in India.

Obama gave a serious warning against the divisive use of social media by ‘some’, including many politicians.

The use of Twitter to announce policy decisions in the United States has reached such levels that some anchors hosting comedy shows said in a lighter vein that ‘US military commanders now-a-days are watching social media carefully because they feel they may be given orders by the President to launch an attack against North Korea through Twitter!’ Jokes apart, the social media menace, if one may call it so, has really reached alarming levels. 

Obama expressed concern about a future where facts are discarded and people only read and listen to things that reinforce their own views. “One of the dangers of the Internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases. The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanisation of society and allows ways of finding common ground,” Obama said.

Obama’s successor Donald Trump is a prolific user of Twitter, but Obama did not mention him by name. He warned that such actions were distorting people’s understanding of complex issues, and spreading misinformation. “All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the Internet,” he said. Obama was interviewed by Great Britain’s Prince Harry on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Obama suggested face-to-face contact will help counteract extreme views. “Social media is a really powerful tool for people of common interests to convene and get to know each other and connect. But then it’s important for them to get offline, meet in a pub, meet at a place of worship, meet in a neighbourhood and get to know each other. Because the truth is that on the Internet, everything is simplified and when you meet people face-to-face, it turns out they’re complicated,” he noted.

In India, many politicians are seen using social media to spread their own political propaganda. Many times, they are seen posting information that is completely false or baseless. Senior leaders too are seen following some people who spread venom and use communal language. This issue is not just limited to India, in the United Kingdom too, there are some groups using social media to spread their messages of hate. Now, Twitter has reportedly started blocking some of these people and restricting their activity. This publication reported just last week how in Pune city itself, some right-wing groups are spreading hate messages against minorities and, that has led to communal tension in some areas of the city. 

Perhaps a time has come to do a major rethink on whether the power to spread messages and content to thousands or perhaps lakhs of people should be given to each and every citizens without checking the person’s credentials in terms of the person being socially responsible, balanced or properly educated. 

In conventional media, there is a system headed by an editor or a curator, who is responsible for the content that gets published or is put up for broadcast, so there is clear accountability. In social media, there is no such accountability. People forward any kind of information or message to hundreds of their contacts without checking the veracity of the matter. This can lead to chaos in society and, in the future, it may be deliberately used to create trouble by anti-social elements. The time has come to take a hard look at what the former US president has suggested and how it applies to India too. Lessons have to learnt fast or else all we can do is repent.

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