Social media usurped ~ seema mustafa
Abuse seems to have become a part of social media, with a strange set of people having crawled on to Facebook and Twitter with the sole purpose of identifying critics of Narendra Modi, and launching vitriolic attacks on each and every such person. The attack backed by lies and fiction of course is basically characterised by language ranging from vulgar to downright abusive, as these ‘persons’ launch a defense of Modi that makes sense to no one but themselves.
But given the relentlessness of these shadow Netizens, many right thinking, sober persons are driven off social media as it is difficult to match the abuse without seriously downgrading all that one stands for. Terms like ‘cleansing’ are used freely, as these persons hurl threats in what becomes a personalised campaign intended to terrorise and silence the rational and secular point of view.
One can back this assertion with any number of Facebook posts that have crossed the line of legality, and moved into the dirty world of threats and slander, and abuse. The buzz is that many of them have been hired to do the job of defending the communal forces, or more specifically communal personalities, with the sole agenda of dominating the social media space so that no column, opinion, tweet gets by without an aggressive, vulgar rejoinder. These persons are not there to debate or convince, their mission is clearly to attack and drive away.
The result is a certain macho flexing of the ‘might is right’ positioning, as the ordinary person gives up when confronted with angry abuse. Secular forces have been unable to match this campaign in its systematic approach, its reach, and its offensive vigour, partly because of the absence of effort and partly because of the inability of the secularists to sink to levels hitherto unknown even on the social media. The discourse is thus being deliberately muddied with a repetition of lies in the belief that if a lie is repeated often enough, it becomes the truth. The intention is to muddy the picture sufficiently so that the lie replaces the truth, and the confused aam aadmi ends up believing what he hears most often.
Narendra Modi&’s reference to Sardar Patel is a case in point. He used the pulpit to announce a lie: Jawaharlal Nehru did not attend Patel&’s funeral. The buzz went right through the country including the media, which carried the speech without even making the effort at an editorial rebuttal. The Congress has come out with the facts, as have historians and others, but for the media this has become an exercise in sensationalism rather than a cold assessment of history as it is, and not as it is being made out to be. So the Congress clarifications are carried in the ‘Congress versus BJP’ space and not as the media&’s own effort to correct the falsehood with the fact. This has helped muddy the picture sufficiently, and that after all was Modi&’s intention as part of a strategy perfected in Germany and Italy, many many years ago. Eventually when the people are no longer looking, the fact will be replaced by the falsehood.
And then no one will stop to ask how is it that the inheritors of the Hindu Mahasabha legacy are usurping a Congress leader who might have entertained
differences with Nehru, but remained totally opposed to the organisation that gave birth
to the Jan Sangh and then the BJP.
The strength of social media lies in its ability to give all equal space, and hence the dirt has to be accepted as well. But perhaps the way out would be for those who believe in a united, democratic, pluralistic India to organise a campaign where facts are set right, over and over again, and communal threats and abuse countered in serious, sober language without surrendering the space. This writer knows of at least a few instances where determined young people countering the deliberate hype with cold, sober facts, won the day and chased off the web crawlers who were unable to engage in serious discussion. Every point made by the crawlers was countered by facts and several myths, including that of Gujarat&’s “development” punctured systematically, with facts and not just comments.
It is interesting to note, in lectures at colleges and universities, how open the young people are to informed analysis and debate. But when this space remains unoccupied by a secular counter, the propaganda of the right wing fills up the vacuum and even grows roots. The intelligent young mind can sift between fiction and fact, but the last has to be provided in good measure for the choice to be made. Secularism as an ideology has been confined to the few in real terms, with political support vanishing as the years since independence rolled by. The Congress party has, perhaps, been the worst offender insofar as this is concerned with its leadership too cowardly to confront and challenge efforts to shift India away from its Preamble of secularism and democracy.
Narendra Modi might win or might not win the elections. He might stay or might not stay for long after the elections. He is just an individual, perhaps more dangerous for Indian secularism than others. But the real challenge is coming from the efforts mounted by those supporting him, to shift the discourse to the far right where all kinds of nastiness is being promoted and encouraged.
Social media is being targeted in a manner that is a manifestation of what is to follow, and it is thus imperative for a counter offensive to at least recapture the space that is currently under attack, where debate is made to replace abuse. Every little bit counts.
The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman