Last evening, on Independence Day, I saw a couple of self-declared liberal journalists tweeting about how they were deleting their Facebook profiles. I ignored thinking it be some usual nonsense where they must do something revolutionary once in a while to stay relevant to themselves.
Then today I again saw some tweets, this time by trolls of the Congress party, attacking Facebook. They were especially abusing a senior employee named Ankhi Das, who is the top public policy executive of the company in India. The Congress trolls accused her of being a “BJP agent” while others used filthy language for her, the most printable being “broker”.
Ankhi Das. That name ringed a bell. Not because I keep track of all top executives of big corporate houses – which otherwise being an ‘MBA types’ perhaps I should have been doing – but because I had sent several emails to her complaining about Facebook’s biased policies impacting reach and earning potential of OpIndia.
Well, what!? So Ankhi was a BJP agent and she frustrated us with implementation of policies. That means OpIndia is a pro-Congress outlet?
Does that make sense to you? It didn’t make sense to me either.
I had sent a string of emails to Shivnath Thukral, another Facebook guy in the policy team, and Ankhi Das in the later part of 2019 listing whole lot of problems that we as a publisher faced due to Facebook’s unfair treatment. I proposed solutions too, like bringing more transparency about policy issues, creating a team for better coordination between publishers and the platform, and other such stuff, all of which were summarily ignored. It was insulting to be honest.
“Personally, this behaviour is not at all surprising to me as I didn’t expect anything better. What I hate is the absence of honesty. Just say that there is no willingness to address some issues as you don’t find them important enough or valid from you point of view, which will be fair enough for me. This politician like approach of killing an issue by just delaying and delaying is not something that suits professionals.” – This was my last somewhat angry response sent in November 2019. After that I didn’t send any more emails as I am not a great fan of talking to someone’s hand, not even to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s.
Before I sent these emails, I had briefly met Ankhi Das and Shivnath Thukral in a meeting with a few other publishers to understand their policies. Within 15 minutes, I felt like leaving the place. The usual liberal bullshit was spouted about “hate speech” and all.
Ankhi specially contended arguments of one guy who had said that hate-speech was subjective. She objected and averred that it was not the case and there were proper guidelines to identify hate-speech. For a second, I just wanted to argue that if “Hinduism is intrinsically exploitative due to caste-system” is not hate-speech, then why should “Islam is inherently violent due to concept of Jihad” be identified as hate-speech? What objective principle is at play that identifies all criticism of Islam as hate speech and accepts even abuses to Hinduism as scholarly comments?
As I write this, author and JNU professor Anand Ranganathan remains blocked from tweeting because him quoting a verse of Quran was termed “hateful conduct” by Twitter. One can point out so many such issues, and I could point out such examples back then too, but I had given up on arguing with liberals way back in 2016 itself. I just wanted to be back home.
So I found it pretty laughable when I found out that a Wall Street Journal article had painted Ankhi Das, a JNU alumnus, as someone who was supposed to be a fan of Narendra Modi and “Islamophobe”. It quoted unnamed Facebook employees, who may or may not exist, and cherrypicked some incidents to show Facebook as biased. As if troubles of publications like OpIndia with Facebook don’t exist.
In fact, let me admit, when I had found out back then that Ankhi Das was from JNU, and possibly earning over a crore rupees a year as salary due to a top Facebook job, I was riled up. Only the MBA types and IIM guys should have that right! But on a serious note, the only conclusion that I could derive from the WSJ article was that liberals had decided to throw one of their own under the bus to attain the wider objective – control on narrative.
Maybe Ankhi Das was not ‘liberal enough’ for them. These days even Noam Chomsky and JK Rowling are being “cancelled” by wokes. She surely was not as important as them. A very dispensable asset in comparison.
But this is not about an individual. It is about what has been happening for around 3 years now. The old liberal establishment is desperate. They are in a hurry to regain control lest the world order inverts for good.
The only way they could come around being the real establishment was through censorship and gate-keeping of information and opinions. They could control what masses could think and speak by having a mafia like control on media and academics. And this is true for all over the world, not just India.
While their control on academics has not weakened a bit, their control on the traditional media started slipping with advent of internet technologies. Initially they didn’t care. At least in the US, internet adoption was quite early and their dot-com boom had taken place in last decade of the last century itself. The traditional media was comfortable with it.
Internet was just a technology back then. A technology that made it easier to access information, and also a technology that made publishing easier through websites and other content management systems. Digital publishing was far more economical and easier than publishing on other platforms like print or broadcast. However, the traditional media continued to call the shots as distribution of published content remained a challenge for new or individual publishers. The “bloggers” were not that great a threat.
Then came Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and WhatsApp. And also came cheaper smartphones and faster mobile data. While internet was disruptive as technology, these were disruptive as products. It changed the way people consumed content. It changed behaviours. In India, internet adoption especially grew pretty fast between 2009 and 2013, and it continues to grow fast with Jio changing the market.
This was the era, at least in India, when narrative was truly democratized. The censorship and gate-keeping of the mainstream media was gone. Alternate voices and opinions got an audience. And not only they got audience, they got an extremely fantastic mean to distribute their content.
The traditional media first tried to ignore these developments, then they laughed at the “trolls”, and now they are fighting it. The typical left-liberal (an oxymoron) crowd that dominated the traditional media has pulled things back of late. They have learnt to use internet, and they have used it really effective in the last couple of years. But their nature is that they just can’t live without censorship and gate-keeping. They genuinely believe in these processes and they will do anything to get those back.
And that’s what have been happening in the last 3 years or so. In the name of fighting “hate speech” and creating “safe spaces”, the traditional media, rather the ideology that ruled on the traditional media, is trying to put pressure and arm-twist the big tech companies to give them that power of censorship and gate-keeping over their platforms. Every person subscribing to this ideology – whether a journalist, or a Facebook employee, or political worker, or even the guy next door – is united in this common objective – to wrest back the control on narrative.
And for that, if they may need to throw someone under the bus, it is worth it. In fact, it serves a warning to others. If you don’t surrender and join us, we’d destroy your reputation and career.
That is your one line summary of the WSJ “expose”.