One of the most extraordinary phenomena of the 21st century has to be the manner in which Social Media has taken over our entire lives. Men and women, young and old, the meek and the strong, the poet and the abusive, everyone takes to social media and makes themselves heard. It has truly revolutionized every aspect of our lives. And thus, on the 30th of June, we celebrate World Social Media Day!
Suspended officer Ashish Joshi threatens ‘True Indology’ after being exposed for his lack of knowledgeNot everyone, however, is happy with the unparalleled access social media has provided to everyone across the board, regardless of their economic status, race, gender, educational background, to register their opinions and pass judgments upon those who assume themselves mighty. Those who have suffered most, of course, are journalists who hitherto had a monopoly over the “truth”. But with the advent of social media and the memory of the internet which remembers everything, the credibility of journalists has suffered sucker-punch. And thus, the mainstream media across the world weeps and begs to their political overlords and bureaucratic friends to have the social media regulated so that their credibility, or whatever that is left of it, can be salvaged.
Another unique phenomenon that is observed, which was brought to my notice by a person on Twitter, that social media networks have a tendency to lean heavily towards the right unless stringently regulated. For instance, 4Chan which is devoid of any regulations is heavily rightwing while Facebook and Twitter, which are heavily regulated, have been known to target the free speech of conservatives.
The manner in which the Indian Political Left and the Right collide on social media is also very intriguing. While the journalists and their ilk often resort to involving the employers of those whose tweets they don’t like, the Right restraints itself to humour and sarcasm and mockery. However, amidst provocation by the mainstream Left, it is only a matter of time that the Right embraces the same tactics that are being used against them.
One of the reasons which journalists and other eminent intellectuals cite to enforce a censorship on social media is the rampant abuse that they are subjected to. Unfortunately, social media has a tendency to reflect real life more accurately than we would desire it to be so. And unlike real life, unpleasant people are merely a click away. However, it is only a plausible excuse for those who would like to scuttle free speech. If abuse was the real issue, then there would have been sympathy shown to right-wing women who have been victims of abuse. Instead, they are labelled as trolls. If abuse was the real matter of concern, then politicization of the matter would have never occurred. But, of course, abuse was merely a ruse to target the right-wing to achieve a political objective.
Social Media is the great leveller as eminent intellectuals have discovered to their dismay. One of the great success of social media has to be TrueIndology on Twitter. The person behind the account has been subjected to much abuse and targeted by those who wouldn’t have him spread the light of truth, however, he/she has educated many and continues to educate on Indian history through his/her account on Twitter. The eminent historians have made many attempts to silence him/her and have ridiculed him/her on many occasions and yet, to those who would listen and care about Indian history, he/she offers an opportunity to learn more about their history. And TrueIndology is but one such story. Twitter is littered with accounts who regularly bring the ’eminent intellectuals’ with several books to their name by merely penning a series of tweets.
The main objective of the Left when they seek to censor social media is to regain their hold on power. Their ideas and methods have no hope of succeeding in free and fair competition. Therefore, they seek to engineer circumstances which ensure their victory regardless of who fights the battle. If the objective was anything otherwise, one would expect them to maintain some sort of consistency over the matter. However, time and again, their actions betray their claims of a holier purpose and expose their political partisanship on the issue. Social Media has made it exceptionally easy for ordinary citizens to register their opinion in the ongoing clash of ideas and the intellectual elite despise the fact that the common citizen no longer regards their words as gospel truth and challenges their authority across every domain.
The political landscape has been changed forever by Social Media as well. If one has to gauge the true measure of the power of social media, one only has to look at Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential Elections. Trump went against the political establishment of both major political parties, the Pope, the mainstream media, Hollywood and the intellectual elite and yet emerged victorious, solely because he had a dedicate base on supporters on social media who would spread his message on Facebook and Twitter though memes and jokes. It’s for nothing that it is said that Donald Trump is the first President to have been memed into the Presidency. The same goes for Narendra Modi as well. The Bharatiya Janata Party was the first political party in India to truly gauge the power of social media and harness it for its sensational victory in the 2014 General Elections.
Of course, social media has its negatives as well. Social Media has reduced the distance between groups who hate each other and thus gives the appearance that our society is more divided than ever. And to a certain extent, social media is feeding the fault lines within the society to generate frictions within its various sections. Once upon a time, social media was an accurate reflection of reality. And yet, as more and more time passes, social media shapes real life discourse more than ever. More importantly, several studies have revealed that social media adversely affects mental health. Thus, it shows that it’s not merely the establishment elite who have not yet grasped the means to deal effectively with social media. The rest of us too are yet to develop means to cope up with the increasing importance that social media has assumed in our lives. One hopes, as more and more time passes, we manage to maximize the benefits of social networks and reduce the adversities of its use to a bare minimum.