By Sanjay Jha
Just last week, Ms Hasiba Amin, President of the NSUI, Goa unit , and face of an advertisement ( part of the Congress party campaign for elections 2014 ) was subjected to a deluge of slander and wicked slur , deliberately mischievous, patently false but with an unambiguous intent to hurt. On social media, reputational capital dissipates like salt in water; it’s instantaneous. The feeling one gets is of a cold monstrous machine that surgically invades your world with remorseless resolve, oblivious of your protestations. It has successfully devastated many victims, some who have vowed never to return. Twitter exchanges have become scatological. That is sad. But why is Twitter the way it is???
Expressing personal anguish and pain is considered infra dig in the new age of social media, judging by the avalanche of ridicule that one witnesses on Twitter and Facebook whenever a celebrity hits a low-phase. Many well-known personalities ranging from TV anchor Rajdeep Sardesai, Congressman Dr Shashi Tharoor, actor Shah Rukh Khan et al have been subjected to an acerbic, acidic assault, possessing a peculiar visceral form of viciousness. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s spontaneous expression of grief, his excruciating hurt at a young age on losing his grandmother and father to brutal assassinations is rarely understood; forget empathy, there is almost a cynical, mocking dismissal of his pain. It shows perverse sadism or heartless detachment or philistine behavior bordering on being apathetic, coarse and teflon-like.
Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra after a brief hiatus returned to Twitter a year ago, suitably downbeat after what must have been an overpowering, overwhelming assault on Twitter. Chopra is not just a former Miss World but a brilliant actress and a brand’s delight. So why was Chopra so mercilessly targeted on the same Twitter where her followers number a staggering 5 million plus? Sometime ago well-known TV anchor from Network 18 Sagarika Ghose had an abominable character uttering the foulest, repugnant words; Ghose RT (retweeted ) that piece of garbage dump just to let her followers know the stench, squalor and vulgarity that accompanies “ interaction”. Barkha Dutt of NDTV has been subjected to equally harsh treatment; the list is actually getting interminable. Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar have also been high-profile casualties. Media editors get bashed up daily, based on where the supposed program “ slant” tilted towards. It is insane, irrational. The trend of Twitter-quitters is incidentally world-wide.
So what makes the Twitter universe assume such diabolical proportions, disregarding essential civility to express displeasure. Why the vile abuse , the nasty character assassination? There are convenient explanations; access to otherwise elusive celebrities or well-known public figures, deliberate provocation to attract attention , pent-up anger on matters of religion, ideology and faith, or maybe just a different take. Twitter anger is also caused by an incessant desire to be connected and also the need to be heard ; it is like an obsessive compulsive disorder. If not careful, it takes both the Followed and the Follower down the ugly black hole.
I personally rarely block abusers, barring odd instances when someone crosses the sacrosanct family line and insinuates against my long-deceased ancestors; that infuriates.
What Twitter is tragically missing is a cheeky, wacky, delectable sense of humor, that cutting sharp observation that slices you into delicious bits but still leaves a lingering smile. Instead what you see is vehemence, virulence and vituperative attacks; it jars normal human sensibilities. Dialogue loses to diatribe, and conversations turn cantankerous. The social media becomes anti-social. At least in India, we need to stop letting Twitter-quitters happen. Possible ?
To a great extent , the answer lies in our demographic social media profile; young, educated, restless, upper middle-class, tech-savvy , anti-establishment attitude, non-conformist, love for the uber cool. Political parties know the segments that are susceptible to extreme propaganda, where anger can be skillfully manufactured . Even in the late 1980s, supporting right-wing patriotic jazz of the saffron kind was considered cool. The hate brigade is strident, intolerant, and prides in circulating unalloyed religious connotations in its talks. There is no existential crisis here; even if the monsoon is lousy, pleased to blame the Agriculture Minister. If there is a LIBOR-gate scandal in western banks forcing accentuating the Euro financial crisis, accuse the Indian Finance Minister . Assam had issues in 2012, but some sarcastically insinuate “ Congress policy of minority appeasement” , even before facts are gathered. There is a savage pleasure, bordering on salient sadism that is disconcerting. There is black and white, no 50 shades of gray here.
But if Twitter loses that fine sense of conversational chit-chat, it will plateau before an unavoidable fall, as embitterment and ennui will combine to deliver that coup de grace lethal punch. No social media is an endless phenomenon, it needs nursing. Facebook has survived because it got personal, Twitter is in a no-man’s land dilemma , and can leave you cold. The carpet bombing from angry birds can be petty; skittish followers can harangue targeted users. Too many tech-roughnecks freely abound. But freedom of expression must find its own self-regulator.
Once the celebrity created a Twitter account to feel like the alpha-person who wants to give their innumerable voyeuristic fans a sneak peek into their consecrated life; but fan-following can be a treacherous invasion; unrestricted acquaintance can have endless disclosures. On Twitter, nobody likes being denied unfortunately. Celebrities too need to stop gloating in self-gratification looking at their followers list; in a sense they inadvertently or sometimes furtively court the trouble-makers.
So will the Twitter-anger ever dissipate , or will it only get further aggravated? I personally feel that those who abuse on Twitter are either fanatical die-hards or those who have not yet experienced pain. I can’t comment on the former as it is about one’s individual faith and value system. Let me explain the latter though. Perhaps the young brigade on Twitter that abuses bitterly and incessantly , has not yet experienced that pain of separation or loss ever. After all 75% of the users of social media are below the age of 30 years, when the world looks in one’s supreme command, and a dazzling future awaits us. The “ Hi Bro” generation is young , but will one day inevitably experience the vicissitudes of life; they teach you something, they alter you in ways one can’t imagine. It happens to all of us, the loss of a loved one, our parents, and those we care for. It cannot be escaped, it is the cycle of life . Loss teaches you empathy. You feel the pain of others. It is good to smother the hate, it gets us nowhere. Even on an impersonal platform like Twitter, you realize the futility of humiliating and hurting anyone.
The pain of loss is a life-changing moment; it alters you permanently, in a way exposing you to the vagaries of an unpredictable life. At that moment, you stand isolated and alone as the world whizzes past you essentially disinterested in your excruciating emotional moments following its own rhythmic deliriousness, indifferent to your anguish. It is like the cycle of life. And then at that moment, all that terrible hate, mindless abuse, ill-tempered talk and hate campaigns become so irrelevant. Nothing binds us more to our fellow-beings than the transitory nature of human existence. Our fragility, our vulnerability is our common bond. No matter how different our thoughts, don’t we all need to somewhere fight a troubled conscience? Finally aren’t we all bound by our mortality? Does that hate really get us anywhere?
A quiet moment of introspection or a little consideration may help. The realization when you abuse a person who may have just lost his spouse or an actor whose father died of cancer. Or when you disdainfully dismiss the anguish of a young politician who has seen death in its most cruel form at close quarters. The scars of loss run deep. Or knowing that when you threaten her with physical intimidation that Sagarika Ghose is a mother of two young children. Or that Hasiba Amin is just doing her best.