By Devasis Chattopadhyay
Social media is a strange and dangerous space these days. Cleavage, muscle, booty shaking as an apology for dancing, and tattooing erogenous zones, are more of display norms than exception. Dance bar induced body movements by teenagers, housewives and daddies alike, to the tunes of Kancha Badam and Puspa holds sway in TikTok clone Facebook ‘Reels’ and videos. Masterclasses offered by Toms and Jerrys galore. The phenomenon is not a very hard nut to crack if I may use a ‘Badam’ metaphor.
Since the war in Ukraine has erupted, the internet too sprouted a thousand of armchair WFH foreign policy and international relations experts commenting on India’s abstinence in voting in the United Nations, or behaviour of the USA or Russia. Not only on Facebook, but these country-cousins of mine did their postings through Twitter, Insta and LinkedIn. Of course, war is obnoxious, and expressing opinions are individuals’ fundamental rights. Supporting Ukraine on humanitarian grounds is acceptable. But providing expert comments and running commentaries on foreign policy and international diplomacy? Seriously?
The power of social media is vast, which prompted blue-ticked Mykhailo Fedorov seeking talent through his tweet for creating a cyber security and IT army. And Elon Musk responded through his tweet–‘Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route’. Those who are really interested in delving into the intricacies of international relations and the internet, go analyse it. Or the politics of Natural Gas and NATO. Or the Chinese investments globally. Why did the UAE abstain too? Otherwise, they should rather do a Kancha Badam, that is a far more acceptable behaviour, in comparison.
Social media also shockingly exposed our frivolous herd-mentality of lack of interest in common courtesy in gathering knowledge and original thinking and exposed our happy ride on plagiarism and copying posts of others without citation. We failed to understand that the shrewd and calculative algorithm driven social media wants us to adopt such behaviour. Everybody, in their collective consciousness in our country, suddenly discovered an exact quote of a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, the deceased Palestinian poet, hitherto hardly used by Indian glitterati. From a Bengali communist party Politburo member to a retired South Indian finance ministry advisor, to a cartoonist-turned-advertising-executive from India’s financial capital to a cleavage displaying Delhi socialite, all posted–The War Will End. The irony is that they hardly possibly knew that a Pakistani pilot turned songwriter apparently tweeted this poem four years ago against the aggression of his country by its neighbour.
In the Arab world this poem is considered as a symbol of anti-Israel and anti-US statements because the central theme in Darwish’s poetry has always been the concept of loss of his own homeland–Palestine – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, specifically. Some would say that this is an anti-war statement. Of course, it is. There are other anti-war poems and statements as well. Post them. Why copy?
These inane mass copying and no-application of mind, along with the perverse sense of being a celebrity just because one could achieve a million click by offering a peek-a-boo of ones undulating pair of buttocks or freshly shaved armpits is the result that the Instagram is filled up with adolescents with eating disorders and suicidal ideations. Twitter just peels along with that irate, mosquito-pitched constant whine before you get angry and slap it hard. Algorithmically elected, engagement-optimized push notifications, suggestions, tips, and erotic tricks from the so-called hottest mindless influencers of the minute, pops up unbidden and inescapable, demanding attention on your screens as counted by your previous click throughs and that is why social media is low brow; use and throw.
The other serious lacunae in the current online scenario is the lack of real-life repercussions for boorish behaviours displayed by a section of its users online which endemically fosters fake news, targeted harassment or cyberbullying, and doxing or identity theft. One should have serious concerns about each of these behaviours during every online interaction. Couple it with another recent open secret of the internet and the situation is alarming.
Pornography is a serious issue in India. But there is no law that penalises a webcam model liable for such modelling. Considering possibly this loophole, an international freecam pornographic tech platform, has expanded its footprint beyond the back of our country. A recent criminal case of sexual extortion in a district headquarter in western Uttar Pradesh has exposed the underbelly of our such societal vulnerability. This tech platform saw a stupendous growth of over 70% during the pandemic.
As reported in a recent social psychology study, what form the social media space owned by the big tech companies will eventually take is anybody’s guess, but the concerns related to the use of today’s social media need to be looked at seriously.
The study said that people behave selfishly when not fastened by traditional societal norms, such as, if you commit a crime you will be punished. Which currently is not happening or difficult to implement in the social media space. Secondly, the rapid rate of online advancement and implementation of new technology has confused less tech-savvy members of our country as a result, making them more susceptible to malicious digital, financial, and reputational manipulations. As our government is ineffective at regulating these social media platforms, the political parties, religious groups, vested interest pressure groups are trying to manipulate public opinion through fake news, trolls, scams, and continue to run amok in the digital space. Lastly, the purveyors catering to baser instincts, mostly those who are producing pornographic material, are having a free run with unhindered access through digital space and mobile tech to gullible minds.
Our only solace is that we, the Homo Sapiens, have always found solutions to protect ourselves and our habitat by getting our collective act together. Hope that we will display similar maturity on the growth of public tech platforms and social media explosion too. (IPA Service)