Dividing Digitally

The world has seen the rise of many social media coaches to help politicians and political parties. Mayawati is just a late entrant

No word can better describe social media that 'misnomer'. It is media that turns one unsociable and, not infrequently, anti-social. The virtual social network delinks the warmth of companionship, makes one recluse, staring at the phone and ignoring the rest of life. Social network has created a neo-news space, essentially a selfie news space. Here, when one buys vegetables one posts on the network. The same is an essential do when the vegetables are cleaned and dressed for cooking and certainly Facebook likes are the must-haves before one even tastes food laid on the table. Anniversaries are celebrated on social network – a common enough tool used by spouses to wish each other, perhaps even when lying on the same bed. No invention has changed human behaviour as much as social network tools have done. What is more, these changes are not confined to any particular geography but is truly a global phenomenon.

The overpowering influence of social network was seen just the other day when Sushri Mayawati, a caste-based politician, representing Dalits in Hindi heartland, launched her twitter handle. The micro-blogging site needs control over thought and command over language to express oneself. What is more, the recipients must be equally adept in following what has been said. Given the target support group and the cause Sushri Mayawati espouses, few did ever think that she would choose Twitter as a medium to communicate ahead of a tough electoral battle. Either the leader is looking an image makeover and intends to address the young, educated and the upwardly mobile voters who depend on social media for information, or she has realised that her core support base has also moved over to the digital space. Either way, it signifies that today in India, digital movement has embraced rich and poor alike and has broken down even the certified faith in caste division.

The other sign of influence of social media is that India's parliamentary committee asked twitter to depose before it on complaints against it on discrimination towards a certain section of opinions. Clearly, those who feel left out (mostly from the conservative right) think Twitter is too important a space to be left out. Evidently, the world has come a long way from the time when Barack Obama used social media for his election campaign in 2008. Like the 1960 television debate saw the emergence of young John F Kennedy, Obama was successful not only in bagging the candidature away from better networked front runner Hillary Clinton but also in winning the race for the White House. Since then the world has seen the rise of many social media coaches to help politicians and political parties. Sushri Mayawati is just a late entrant.

In fact, the desperate jump into social media by politicians, who care little for their support base in personal life, is a clear enough acceptance of the fact that a generation has emerged whose attention could be drawn only through digital media. In a world where people who record their movements, even intimate ones, including, not infrequently, suicide notes, nobody looking to be in the reckoning can wink at the social media. No wonder that in the world today, tools like Twitter are more powerful than parliamentary committee even of the world's largest democracy. And why not? After all, tools like Twitter are borderless while a writ of parliament cannot cross its legal territory. Predictably, Twitter chief executive found himself too busy to respond to the call of India's parliamentary standing committee. What can the slighted members do? Move out of the platform? Will they?

This brings us to another, no less important, aspect of behavioural change that social media has brought in human society. Now the medium, not infrequently, is more powerful than even the sovereign. Twitter, for instance, has a large presence in India. Yet its CEO can snub the parliamentary committee of India knowing fully well that the committee would be helpless in containing its presence and business in India. Of course, one may cite China as an example where these tools are not operational for domestic users. But then China is not exactly part of the global rules though very much present in tools.

Social media has brought out the milk of human creativity to the fore. And what best way to exhibit one's creativity than doing so incognito. Fake accounts are galore in every social media platform. WhatsApp is said to be removing at least two million accounts each month for bulk or automated behaviour and over 75 per cent of those without recent user reports. Come election time and such accounts crop up in bulk. WhatsApp groups are most useful in circulating fake messages to the gullible. Gullibility depends on the tilt of the person concerned, even truncated note sheets can make a complete picture to many.

Social media has proved to be an effective tool to recruit soldiers for anti-social activities. If one needs to spread hatred, inflame passions and disrupt civilised peaceful living there can be no better medium than many social media tools. Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook are the most used medium to campaign some viewpoint or other. These are interlinked and messages splashed in one can catch even faster than wildfires. While law enforcing agencies take time to move resources physically, misinformation can spread in split seconds just by the press of a button. Like it or not, the way social media is helping anti-social activities, the term social media seems to be a misapplication. The other unavoidable conclusion is that it has become a tool for dividing people digitally. Like any technology, digital technology is not only harming mankind by taking away jobs but also creating social imbalance and disrupting legal structures. We are caught in days of dark web.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

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