Gujarat News, Gujarati News, Latest Gujarati News, Gujarat Breaking News, Gujarat Samachar.

Latest Gujarati News, Breaking News in Gujarati, Gujarat Samachar, ગુજરાતી સમાચાર, Gujarati News Live, Gujarati News Channel, Gujarati News Today, National Gujarati News, International Gujarati News, Sports Gujarati News, Exclusive Gujarati News, Coronavirus Gujarati News, Entertainment Gujarati News, Business Gujarati News, Technology Gujarati News, Automobile Gujarati News, Elections 2022 Gujarati News, Viral Social News in Gujarati, Indian Politics News in Gujarati, Gujarati News Headlines, World News In Gujarati, Cricket News In Gujarati

Social Media – And Its Cesspool Of Toxicity – Now Occupies A Central Place In Our Democracy

| Updated: August 13, 2023 2:29 pm

Once captured by the ubiquitous social media lens and flashed everywhere, the evil that men do lives after them. In 2017, Shambhulal Regar etched his name into social media’s “most watched” list by hacking to death and then setting on fire Afrazul Khan, a migrant labourer, for the unpardonable crime of being Muslim, even as Regar’s 14-year-old nephew filmed the horror and uploaded it for the world.

For this act of vindicating “Hindu pride”, Regar, who is lodged in a Jodhpur jail, was honoured with a tableau during the Ram Navami celebrations in the city in 2018, a telling vignette of the present-day perverse religious bigotry that is toasted on social media.

Then take the local hero of Gurugram, cow vigilante Monu Manesar: a social media celebrity with over two lakh subscribers on YouTube and 83,000 followers on Facebook lionised for his videos persecuting Muslims who are alleged cow smugglers, he is the key suspect in the killing of two young Muslim men from Rajasthan earlier this year, yet roaming free.

He became the trigger for the communal rioting and mayhem that has resulted in six deaths and extensive damage to the property of one community, by releasing a video saying he would participate in the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s ‘religious’ procession that provocatively passed through Nuh, a predominantly Muslim area. A thought: would this ogre have been able to wreak such havoc without social media?

Also Read: How Provocative Videos and a Background of Hate Preceded the Nuh Riots

Lest Christians feel they have been spared such macabre social bashing, there is Manipur, where a communal civil war has festered for over three months and numerous churches have been burnt. It was a mere blip in the national consciousness until the video of two Kuki women stripped naked, publicly paraded and sexually assaulted went viral 79 days after the shameful incident in early May and forced the country to sit up and take notice.

This was also when our mealy-mouthed Caesar broke his maun vrat to shed crocodile tears and make a statement dripping with false equivalence that sought to diminish the enormity of the crime.

Though still not revealed, the preponderant probability is that the video of the two women was recorded by a subscribing acolyte of the criminals as a memento to titillate their fellow travellers – another brutal example of the perverse use of social media.

By the most conservative estimates, over 4.5 billion people have descended into the rabbit hole of social media. It has become the prime source of information, misinformation, propaganda, psychopathic sadism and physical violence. The tech wizards who conjured, microchip by microchip, the awesome social media world, could not have imagined that they were, willy-nilly, creating the post-modern Frankenstein that threatens our world with its unbridled power.

The traditional media and their gatekeepers are still reeling from what has hit them. They have been seamlessly superseded by an ostensibly democratic and deadly-effective communication web which enables anyone with a smartphone to have their message conveyed across the world instantaneously.

Regrettably, this marvel of hi-tech that is full of endless possibilities for social good, has transmuted into a fearsome monster whose first targets are the truth, the facts and sheer humaneness.

Also Read: The Intricate Design of Propaganda and Narrative Manipulation in India

In the early years, social media gave hope of transforming the world for the better. A truly epochal information-spreading tool, it promised a global society rooted in democracy, pluralism and a meaningful equality.

Consider its positive forceful impact in a deeply racist country like America, where even as late as the 1990s, two professors bestowed respectability to racism with their egregious theory of the “Bell Curve”, which sought to establish a genetic link between race and intelligence, clearly insinuating that whites were intellectually superior to blacks.

And yet in that benighted land a decade later, a black American with a Muslim middle name assumed charge as the commander-in-chief. In 2008, fuelled by a brilliantly innovative, multi-pronged social media campaign, Barack Hussein Obama became the first black President of the USA.

His rousing rallying cry, “Yes, we can!” ricocheted around the internet along with his hope-filled message: “We will begin the next great chapter in the American story with three words that will ring from coast to coast, from sea to shining sea.” Social media had indubitably helped push back the racist bigots, but as it turned out, only fleetingly.

And who can forget the seminal role played by social media in the revolutionary movements for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa between 2010 and 2012? Social media helped protesters to mobilise support, shape opinions, organise mass demonstrations and inform the world of what was happening in the autocracies of the region.

In a dramatic reversal of roles, state propaganda was overwhelmed by a social media blitzkrieg that amplified the dissenting voices of the common citizens. Social media had struck a decisive blow for democracy by helping unseat an unsavoury gang of autocrats.

A protester holding a placard in Cairo referring to Facebook, acknowledging social media’s role during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. Photo: Essam Sharaf/Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported.

But these laudable exemplars of the potential of social media to democratise global discourse and promote the common good proved deceptive. In the fractious arena of power politics, social media has become the prime means of communication, but that weighty responsibility has not been complemented by responsible behaviour.

And the tech companies – the putative gatekeepers – have been cussedly reluctant to flag and remove inappropriate, offensive matter, largely because hate speech and incitement to violence is lucrative business.

Practicing an unrestrained free speech absolutism where the hitherto unsayable is now par for the course, social media is dominated by a bewildering mix of right-wing nationalists, hatemongers, Islamophobic edgelords and Twitterati warriors who have corroded the entire system with the most unspeakable, venomous and divisive rhetoric, creating a dystopian world where there are no moral codes and where every fact is negotiable.

Social media platforms, largely unmoderated, have become cesspools of toxic behaviour.

It is frightening that social media has become, for most users, the sole fount of information and knowledge about the world around them. It gives them a false sense of power to avenge wrongs and punish enemies, while also providing them an outlet to vent their fears and insecurities.

With its lethal arsenal of disinformation, alternative facts, violent trolling, doctored videos, odious propaganda et al, social media has seized absolute control in the “information war”, even as the traditional media outlets shrink rapidly. The measured, thought-provoking op-eds have been supplanted by intellectually undemanding social media fare, a dumbing down that bodes ill for the future.

Also Read: Backstory: It’s Media Information That Keeps India as a Country Together – or Apart

It is no accident that the weaponising of social media in the world’s two largest democracies coincided with the rise to power of Donald Trump and Narendra Modi – two leaders whose careers have been greatly influenced, if not defined, by their deep-rooted, visceral links with social media.

Trump is universally recognised as the leading troll in the US. In July 2019, in the run-up to the 2020 presidential elections, he convened a “social media summit” in the White House, inviting a gaggle of pro-Trump social media titans to strategise for the ensuing presidential elections. Social media constituted the main plank of his election strategy.

Not renowned for his fidelity to the truth, Narendra Modi’s version of the role of social media is a stunning example of two-facedness. His stated position is that “social media is reducing social barriers. It connects people on the strength of human values, not identities”.

But the ugly reality is that he is a committed Hindu supremacist, whose camp followers have been persecuting Muslims and Christians amid electorally-inspired outreach targeting Pasmanda Muslims and a section of compromised Christian clergy – duplicitous gestures that fool nobody.

In her book I am a Troll, intrepid journalist Swati Chaturvedi takes us into the dark recesses of the BJP’s social media world, whose main purpose is to purvey fake news, foment hatred, pillory opponents, empower bigotry, incite violence and undermine democracy.

Despite being the target of the most scurrilous attacks by right-wing trolls and facing sustained harassment by the government, she stood her ground. She holds the PM responsible for emboldening them: “I’ve been watching in horrified fascination as the leader of the world’s largest democracy follows and felicitates trolls.”

Also Read: General Narendra Modi and His Troll Army

We live in an age of viral politics, where grassroots support is driven primarily by the internet, which is setting the agenda because of its omnipresence and unfiltered instant feedback. The days when voters took their cues from the studied analyses of the political pundits are over, as the vast majority turn to social media for determining their world view and certainly their electoral preference.

India and I.N.D.I.A had better watch out! The 2024 general elections will be fought under the aegis of social media, which now occupies a central place in our democracy.

And it will not be a level playing field! As we head into the final lap of the election cycle, this dispensation’s troll armies will be going full tilt with their repertoire of dirty tricks – fake news, doctored videos, bigotry, polarising hate, incitement to violence.

While they have a free run, the surveillance, harassment, and curbs on the free speech of opponents and critics of the regime will be intensified. It is a formidable challenge, but how the Opposition and the people who care for democracy respond to the machinations of this dangerous outfit will determine the future of our democracy.

Mathew John is a former civil servant. Views are personal.

This article was first published by The Wire

Also Read: No, Kohli Isn’t Earning $1,384,000 For One Instagram Post, Cricketer Clarifies

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *