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The real enemies of social media

By Sudhir Bisht
November 25, 2016 16:36 IST
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The trolls on Twitter, the rumour mongers on WhatsApp and the serial abusers on Facebook are the enemies of social media, says Sudhir Bisht.

I read with great interest the article Modiji, the problem I have with your bhakts is..., in which the writer laments the fact that some so-called Modi Bhakts have turned trolling into a device of uninhibited harassment, shaming those who seem to have even a slightly different view from them.

I endorse the writer's views.

These so-called Bhakts are trolls who have neither any real respect for the PM nor do they have his endorsement.

In fact, they are at best a group of jokers and at worst a bundle of anarchists who terrorise those who want to use social media to seek and disseminate information, putting across a point of view or two, or maybe just for entertainment.

The trolls on Twitter, the rumour-mongers on WhatsApp and the serial abusers on Facebook are the enemies of social media.

Not long ago, when social media was the exclusive domain of a few with expensive Internet connections, it was seen by many as a serious and credible challenger to mainstream media for providing the input that could be vital to forming one's own opinion on issues of national, social, economic and social importance.

But as the Internet became cheap and smartphone prices started to drop, the tweeples (as the irrepressible Subramanian Swamy calls his followers) and the WhatsApians (my term for crazy WhatsApp addicts) increased exponentially.

A large section of people who wanted to broadcast their opinions to the world saw SM as an opportunity to express themselves.

Many users used SM intelligently to let their friends and their groups know their views. Some started the business of 'forwarding' or 'liking' to remain in the loop and to be seen as being alive.

While a few used SM to get some kind of perverse pleasure in mocking those who may have achieved a position that they, the trolls, always aspired for.

And if one didn't have the courage to troll openly, one could always create a fake Twitter account and throw muck around, comfortably enveloped in the safe quilt of a fake name and fake display picture.

In the normal course I would not have worried so much about these useless trolls and their insipid tweets.

What worries me is the manner in which highly-educated and well-mannered professionals have taken to spreading abuse through social media.

I would have liked to reproduce some of the messages that I received from a contact who holds a very senior position in a new generation bank, but the content is so libelous that I am not in a position to produce the same verbatim. I will, however, try to explain the message in brief.

The banker sent me a link of an article that showed how Indians had sent record sums of money abroad by taking advantage of liberalised RBI rules.

He then suggested that the RBI increased the slab for the 'liberalised remittance scheme' up to $250,000 after the present PM came to power.

He attached URLs of all the RBI circulars and came up with a perverted message that the enhancement of LRS was done at the prime minister's behest and the demonetisation exercise is a sham to befool the people of the country.

The rich, he alleged, had already moved out their slush money overseas taking advantage of enhanced LRS limits.

Now we all know that WhatsAppians have little time to read the articles that are linked to the message. The article and circulars have no connection with the allegations being made in the message.

A careful scrutiny of the messages illustrated above would reveal the mindset of a person who is obviously not a fan of Prime Minister Modi.

I am ashamed to say that I received such a message from a young banker perhaps using the bank's bandwidth and the bank's time to forward a message that paints the prime minister in poor light, without even a shred of evidence to support that.

I was aghast at getting this message. I argued with my friend that he shouldn't have forwarded this message since the allegations were wild, unsubstantiated and malicious in nature and were made against the head of the government of our country.

My banker friend's response was swift and ruthless. Anyone who criticised the government, he said, was being seen as anti-national and the regime was too intolerant. In one decisive moment, my friend made me a part of the 'regime'!

I argued with my friend that that he could call the PM dictatorial or too power-wielding or domineering and I would have no quarrel with his point of view which I may not share. But for him to call the PM someone who was responsible for raising the LRS with an ulterior motive was an insane allegation, at least since there were no backup evidence to corroborate the allegation.

My friend didn't relent and continued to call the regime intolerant and even chided me for not knowing the difference between a 'forwarded as received message' and an original message.

I then asked him at least to withdraw that message, but my request was turned down. I was indirectly labelled a 'Bhakt,' with some circumlocution of course, and was left to nurse my feeling of hurt.

Another message doing the SM rounds nowadays pertains to the Reserve Bank of India governor.

The message 'accuses' RBI Governor Urjit Patel of being a close relative of the richest business family in India and goes on to add that if not for this proximity, Dr Patel would never have been appointed to his post. (Note: Dr Patel is not related to the family.)

The message has been forwarded across many WhatsApp groups and is not only acerbic and pungent, it shows scant disregard for the RBI governor's achievements.

It is well known that Dr Urjit Patel was handpicked by then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh as RBI deputy governor some years ago. Dr Singh held Dr Patel in high esteem and it is on record that he felt that Dr Patel was an asset to India.

I can bear the Sonam Gupta jokes and the Kejriwal jokes and jokes built around Modi's 56-inch chest and around Rahul Gandhi's intellect, but to hurl vicious and vile allegations against CMs and the Leader of the Opposition or against the PM of the country are acts of spreading intellectual terror across social media and I would like each one of us to condemn them.

The users of social media must introspect what kind of culture they want to build around this powerful vehicle of communication.

There are laws in place against spreading rumours on the Web, but it is difficult for the enforcement agencies to take action against people who may be far too many to be booked.

Maybe it is best that the users of SM regulate themselves. And if the trolling continues, the user who initiates or forwards vile and venom should be blocked by his friends and followers.

Social media came into being to represent the voice of the multitudes.

Let its spirit not be killed by those who are meant to gain by its existence.

Sudhir Bisht, author and columnist, tweets @sudhir_bisht

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