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Off limits

Publication Date : 25-07-2014


There is so much dirt unleashed on social media, particularly Twitter,  which seems to be taken by all those using it - fake or otherwise - as a guarantor for abuse.

A message by any self-respecting person is immediately responded to by allegations, motivations and if the individual happens to be a Muslim or carry a Muslim name - as in this case - the abuse knows no bounds.

And what is particularly disconcerting, and should be also to a government of the democratic, secular Republic of India is that all of these abusers from India insist that they are supporters of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many of them carry the BJP symbol photograph as their status, with others of course carry militant images to inspire - at least so they hope - fear and awe.

The abuse ranges from the usual “go to Pakistan, get out” to everything else that makes the first mentioned abuse seem mild in comparison. Religion, patriotism, terrorism are all invoked as these mafia Twitters target one or another person the moment they seek to use the social media to articulate a view point, howsoever mild and rational.

This writer, who is clearly one of the targets, faces it on a daily basis to a point that a Facebook post is picked up by these chaps and tweeted as soon as it appears, with a flash of successive tweets by unknown names letting loose a volley of abuse, each sufficient to land a serious individual in jail.

However, they are all clearly hiding under fake IDs, none of them use their own photographs, and just seem to be a group funded to do precisely what they are doing. Trying to chase sane opinion off the social media, and grabbing the space for their vitriol.

They succeed because the ordinary legitimate user gets intimidated, not necessarily because he or she is scared, but because no one can match the abusive language and the dirty innuendoes that these supporters of the current government - so they say - use.

Unfortunately whenever the issue of control comes up, trigger happy governments start looking at whittling down the freedom of those whose voices are not heard in the  mainstream media. Not just in India but across the world, and hence those at the receiving end of the vitriol tend not to push the issue lest the state get into controlling the one space that is still relatively free.

In India protests, alternative policies, dissent and criticism ~ not just political but covering the wide expanse - is ignored or even deliberately blacked out by the mainstream media with the Internet then becoming the only available space for dissemination of facts.

These facts are more important than government achievements as while there is a powerful propaganda machinery for the latter in every single country, it is the peoples' voice that gets muffled and censored more often than not.

Today the power of the Internet is being felt as more and more younger people are drawn to cyber space for their news and information. While the older generation sticks to print and the sheer entertainment of the Indian news channel discussions every evening, the under-35 generation surfs the net for whatever information it can get about an issue that strikes its fancy.

It is because of this that stories go viral, and where the truth, say about Gaza, that would have been completely blanked out otherwise, surfaces and is reacted to by younger people with a conscience.

In the midst of this, the abuse of these tweeting hired persons is perhaps a small price to pay. But even so any political party that prides itself on being disciplined, and whose leaders insist that their government or policy is different, can be expected to check the social media for those who are using their symbol to abuse and hurt.

One would have thought that a government and a ruling party would rid itself of this dubious and damaging support, and replace it instead with persons who could then argue out the case in a reasonable and moderate fashion. Instead poor kids are arrested for doing little more than lampooning a politician.

But then this is too much to ask, perhaps, of politicians who nowadays seem to revel in this kind of macho-ism and think it is real politics. The abuse of the social

media perhaps is built into the system, although both Facebook and Twitter have built in ‘privacy’ safeguards but when persons are hired to set up fake IDs to abuse, it becomes difficult for the ordinary person to counter these as effectively as he or she would like.

The abuse thus acts as censorship with Indian users of the social media clearly scared of the repercussions of sharing their sentiments with their friends. This is sad, not just for them, but also for the bosses of those who are trying to stifle the alternative or opposing views.

It is always best to know the opposition, to understand it and deal with it in a reasonable fashion. It is always counter-productive to push the alternative view underground as it were, and sit back like the proverbial ostrich convincing oneself that such views do not even exist. But governments somehow like to become ostriches and prefer not to know the truth so that they can feel they are ‘in control’ of a world that perhaps does not even exist!

Print media and television channels have become so hugely expensive that these are beyond the reach of even small business, requiring the millions of big corporates like Reliance and others.

The result is that given the nature of the business (it was once called journalism) now, it is unlikely that except for newspapers like The Statesman that have been protected, most others in the mainstream will remain under the control of big business that has close, tight ties with governments and politicians.

A vested interest to control the media thus has sprung up, with it being very visible under the Congress and as much so under the BJP. Governments have realised there is no need for censorship, the media is censored even more effectively from the back, by the money bags who owe their money too to the patronage of governments.

The importance of the Internet, thus, is increasing by the day with more and more serious efforts on to provide credible information and not leave this important medium at the mercy of pranksters, porn sites, abusers and what have you. These efforts were few and far between to start with and have started gathering pace with the traffic becoming limitless.


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