Spreading hatred one comment at a time

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IMG_5437 IMG_5436There is no familiarity lost on the screaming matches that blare through our television screens ‘prime time’ every day, day after day, where we debate issues of national interest, matters which may or may not have a direct bearing on the aam aadmi, but they are debated nevertheless. We have our suave, Hindi speaking anchor who prefers pitch dark to bright lights of the studio; we also have the celebrated woman journalist who, despite her fairly moderate show, is often trolled on social media. But the one who takes the cake is the man who asks, on behalf of the nation, why his decibel level is abhorred by many, who ‘wants to know’ why is he loathed as much as loved.

These panel discussions, which often turn even the calmest of the participants into a mud-slinging puglist, have come to define new-age journalism. The idea and objective behind these shows is to form headstrong and stubborn opinions, leaving little or no room for a healthy discussion, discreetly promote an agenda, and increase TRPs (we still are trying to find the truth behind what transpired in the newsroom of a leading Hindi channel that set the entire Jawaharlal Nehru University on fire). As the arguments in favour of and against such programmes remain in equal numbers, one can have some heart in the fact that channels as well as newspapers still exercise a bit of restraint while reporting sensitive matters, and don’t go all out expressing their support or lack of it to a particular caste/community/creed/religion/minority group. Reportage is still free from any colour or slant, giving hope to a lot of us that the Fourth Estate has not drowned itself in the sea of biases.

Unfortunately, a new form of journalism, which comes festooned with fancy terms like ‘real’, fierce, ‘true’, ‘unbiased’, has raised its ugly head and is spreading its tentacles fast and unchecked, invading our lives and minds, shaping our thought processes which may or may not be healthy for the collective society. Social media(Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc) is its favourite breeding ground as it provides just the right environment that it required to create controversies, feed on divided opinions and in the process, increase the chasm that already exists in the society. A lot of pages that pride themselves in “reporting straight from the line of fire”, and bringing to the audience “the truth”, have come up on Facebook, so have accounts on Instagram and Twitter handles, treading on the same framework. The world that has been going gaga over the freedom of speech social media provides and has helped increase manifolds, is perhaps deliberately ignoring the pitfalls of such freedom. Since it is not under scrutiny as much as newspapers, channels etc, there is no check on the content that is being doled out on these social channels. What appears to be seemingly innocuous and ‘academic’ discussions between opinionated people, is a disturbing trend that is fanning communalism, casteism, and regionalism.

If the Kanhiaya Kumar controversy brought out on social media ideological differences, the latest killing of Burhan Wani has done much worse. Overnight (and counting) photographs, videos(whose authenticity is clearly questionable) emerged on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, with provoking captions hailing the militant as a martyr, blaming a particular community for this, and castigating the Army for “innocent” killings. Captions talk about how Kashmiris’ plight in “India Controlled Kashmir” (a page titled Everyday India on Instagram), how a particular number of people have lost their lives for freedom and how they are being victimised, followed by pictures that have their credibility under scanner(another page on Instagram called ‘there.is.no.name.here’), another person claiming to be video journalist living in a “conflict zone” has been putting up videos, glorifying Wani as a sacrificial victim. Because the visuals are very telling and the captions deliberately written to incite communal sentiments, this ingenuity has been more than successful in spewing hatred among communities whose bonhomie is already walking on razor’s edge. And they are being lapped up with great gusto by people who will perhaps never take the pain to pause and think whether there is any truth to it but who will not take a minute before pouring out venom against each other stemming from some deep-seated prejudice.

The most disturbing aspect is that majority of users on social media are youngsters who are still trying to find their ground, searching for an ideal to emulate and be inspired by

So, the more ‘likes’ and comments, the more traffic draws to the page, and bigger the revenue and visibility, with serving of hate mongering agenda as a bonus. Hence what has followed is a steady stream of comments where people have bayed for each others’ blood, called, questioned their patriotism, sometimes paternity as well, threatened with meeting the same fate as Wani etc. And some of the neutral viewers who questioned the stark and apparent slant they are giving to their ‘real’ news reports, were called everything from right-winged to fake to coward by none other than the ‘reporters’ whose stories are creating animosity among complete strangers. Questioning about their noticeable lack of media ethics and responsibility towards news has led to being attacked personally by the ‘admin’(new age term for the editor-in-chief) of the page.

Truth is the first casualty in war as history has taught us but in the latest case of Wani and social media, truth is being (mis)used to mislead, misinterpret and misguide. The most disturbing aspect of the current scenario is that majority of users on social media are youngsters who are still trying to find their ground, searching for an ideal to emulate and be inspired from, impressionable minds that are gradually discovering their voice and opinions. It is not healthy for the future that coming generations have pre-conceived notions about each other, that their thoughts about others are extremist and biased, which is also one of the reasons that such content is arrested before it does more damage.

We cannot ignore the disturbing trend it is setting, one which is craftily isolating people on the basis of their religion, caste, meat-eating preferences, in sensitive and trying times, a time when the social thread of our society is tattering. This unbridled power of social media is doing more harm than good, from changing the way news is reported and consumed to the impact on its audience. The sad part is that the few who do not understand the responsibility that comes with power, are using it as a tool to create differences, be famous and earn money in the process, at the cost of humanity.

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