For long now, discourse in Indian society has been largely one sided. The narrative has always been set by the mainstream media and is generally religiously followed by the unwashed masses. We are told that this a cause worth fighting for, and often media houses run the campaigns too, telling us what we should do to the support this cause, either by positive or negative actions. The topic at hand is not the legitimacy of the cause, but the legitimacy of the means to support or oppose the cause.
Now, with the advent of social media, the baton of power has moved to “We, the people”. The most stunning example of this in recent times was when a broad based campaign emerged from nowhere, to down-rate the snapdeal app. The reason? Their brand ambassador had made remarks which were unpalatable to a section of the public. The result? snapdeal took a hit, had to issue a clarification, and Aamir Khan’s image slowly faded into the background on some of snapdeal’s promotional media. Other brand houses began talking about this new phenomenon and how brands in future would like to secure themselves from the statements of their endorsers.
The next big move happened when an army of people down-rated Barkha Dutt’s book on Amazon. Reason again was the same, people just did not like Barkha and had found a way to express that. Barkha of course cried foul that unverified buyers were blindly down-voting her, but as once could see, many of her positive reviews too were from unverified buyers, a few from NDTV staffers themselves.
The next was the “boycott” of the movie Dilwale, which has apparently “led” to its “lower” collections. All these terms are subjective though, since there is no quantifiable measure of the nature and extent of the boycott, whether this boycott alone (and not the facts that the movie got bad reviews, that it clashed with Bajirao Mastani etc) led to lower collections and whether these collections are indeed “lower”.
All the above reactions by general public may not be exactly comparable, but there is one common trait: They are all perfectly legal ways of expressing displeasure which eventually can be sort of quantified. Such forms of protests are far better than the other forms of public protests like strikes, public rallies, effigy burning etc.
The problem arises when we ask whether these methods of valid from a moral viewpoint. While India has seen such protests for the first time, such events have happened in the developed world many times. Users have decided to hit a brand economically, using their freedom to not choose that brand, to send across a message. So this “problem” is not at all limited to India.
While people are well within their rights to take such actions, what must be seen is what kind of impact these will have on the impact of Freedom of Speech of the people being attacked. A Shahrukh Khan for example, spoke his mind, irrespective of what he had said, and now he is being made to pay (quite literally) for just that. It all seems hunky dory until you are not the one on the receiving end.
The day the tables turn, and there is a sizeable force on the other side, who can do the same thing to you, it is only then we will start raising questions of this entire process. But as I see it, this will eventually become the norm, and we have to be ready to accept this as yet another means of available to the public to express their views. With the ever increasing proliferation of social media, this is just the beginning, and in future we will surely see bigger, stronger campaigns. Brace yourself, Winter is coming.