Beware of Hindu-Muslim hate-mongering by 'nationalists' on WhatsApp groups
Recently, I had to exit one such group out of disgust.
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Social media has become an inseparable companion for one and all. From the first thing that we check in the morning to the last thing we browse before going to sleep, it captures unimaginable time and space in our lives.
Facebook, with around 166 million users, and WhatsApp with over 200 million monthly active users in India, the statistics demonstrates how quick we are moving from interaction to addiction.
Undoubtedly, the digital era has opened numerous opportunities, but at the same time it is being actively used as a tool to manipulate, misinform and spread rumours. (MediaNama)
I often get notifications or, worst of all, am added in groups and pages, without information or consent. I dread the next stage, which is bombardment with irrelevant and illogical messages that in no way relate to the purpose of the group.
It is commonplace for Facebook and WhatsApp to be flooded with fiery nationalist messages. These poorly rhymed poems or cheaply edited videos don’t shy in openly and proudly advocating for war, hatred and killings.
The current overflowing sense of digital nationalism is the forte of the urban population with internet access. Recently, I had to exit one such group out of disgust. The video talked of burning Pakistan, with abusive slogans for Muslims and captured men chanting "Jai Hindu" and "Jai Sri Ram", with swords and weapons in hands.
In such videos, it is common to see the PM riding a lion and dragging Muslim clergymen on a leash, or in the guise of Hanuman, burning Pakistan to shreds. Such chest-thumping digital nationalists are precariously present in every part of the country, eager to replace conversations with bombs and bullets, often, in a tone that rules out any scope of disagreement or discussion.
Social media is the new-age god, and is here to complement loud and over-active news anchors. Opinions are unilaterally formed and judgments are pronounced. Soon one comment or post becomes viral and people who differ in opinion are bombarded with personal attacks.
The social media decides to exile Aamir Khan to Syria, but ironically would still go gaga over his movies (never mind if it’s pirated or a first day, first show or a repeat telecast on TV).
The Facebook verdict is that salvation of our country rests on war and on deporting those disagreeing to Pakistan. Never mind, if the opinion-makers have never visited Kashmir, or are faintly acquainted with the present and past of this dispute stricken territory, but Kashmir tops the nationalistic agenda on social media.
Half-baked theories would claim Kashmir but ironically abuse the Kashmiris, branding them as terrorists. Blind hatred and the inability to see beyond digital patriotism are making us emotionally bankrupt and mentally malnourished. There is an aggression, anger and unwillingness to listen to any explanation. The ongoing damage is going to cost us dearly, and will leave people and relationships scarred for life.
This unprecedented and growing control over social and mainstream media by hideous forces will have disastrous real-world ramifications. Photo: Reuters
Wearing patriotism on the sleeve is the new fashion, the louder the better. There are organised troll gangs who pretend to be the new-age freedom-fighters. Trolls, emboldened by the anonymity given by the internet, are out there to save Mother India with abuse, sexist messages and rape threats.
And if you think the trolls are merely a bunch of frustrated and dysfunctional people, you need to see the broader picture - they are sadist hate-mongers who have been provided a platform to channelise their energies in a strategised direction.
Trolling is now a lucrative career option, used by politicians for creating a mass base - as Swati Chaturvedi describes in her book I am a Troll - and is the equivalent of a communally-charged mob out to burn down somebody’s home (or village) as part of a pogrom.
This fact was substantiated when Manohar Parrikar, on the removal of Aamir Khan from the Snapdeal campaign, admitted that a well-organised team was working on the issue.
Without a face, these trolls can be anywhere and everywhere, forcing you to see people as Hindu, Christians or Muslims.
Being a communicator by profession, I have no doubts about the power of social media as an impactful influencer. Our Facebook posts, Twitter battles and WhatsApp messages are liked, re-tweeted and shared across platforms, making it seem all encompassing, like a reality.
We are comfortably living in the golden age of lies, where false information, twisted facts and half-baked stories are sold blatantly on the internet. It was just yesterday that I got a forward alerting me about ISIS and Pakistani agents who are supposedly visiting homes, door-to-door in the guise of medical practitioners, to inject residents with the AIDS virus.
Posts going viral on the internet every other day clearly shows that we have outsourced our brains to jingoist and obnoxious TV journos and trolls. In a fierce competition to react first, our quest for truth and thirst for answers is long dead.
This unprecedented and growing control over social and mainstream media by hideous forces will have disastrous real-world ramifications. Remember, the next time you like, re-tweet or forward a post, you are falling prey to a well-framed and strategically-designed political agenda of a group.
Merely changing the Facebook DP or taking forward abusive messages does not ensure patriotism. Love for the country can be expressed offline too. Be at office on time and don’t cheat on work, pay your taxes and bills honestly, stop bribing, don’t litter, follow traffic rules, respect your fellow countrymen, even if they are poor, deprived, from another religion or caste, or from the north-east (which is very much a part of India), adopt a child.
If this small list appears a lot more cumbersome as compared to digital nationalism, just do one thing - spend less time on social media, and more with people; it might teach you compassion that is fast disappearing from our lives.