By Kaustov Kashyap
We are currently in the golden age of the Internet and social media. Conventional media such as newspapers, magazines and TV are on the path of being redundant. Today, social sites such as Facebook and Twitter are driving the discussions in the public sphere. They show us what is trending/in fashion around us. That trend can range from fashion to protests.
Social media has become the most important and influential source of information and news for the current generation. Social Media and the Internet are creating and changing socio-political narratives across the world, from the Black Lives Matter Movement to anti-CAA-NRC protests in India. These are all examples of the impact and influence of social media.
Between 2013–2016 in the Indian internet space, right-wing/pro-BJP IT cell dominated social media trends. One of the reasons the Congress lost in 2014 was that it became the butt of all social media jokes. Narendra Modi was one of the first major Indian politicians to use social media effectively for image building. That helped him tremendously attract the youth of this country in 2014.
Social media can make or break careers, public images and even social movements. In this era of social media, everyone who has access to the Internet is a broadcaster. Everyone can express opinions, ask questions, and even criticise anything; governments, judiciary, or even celebrities. From questioning the government and courts to running campaigns, social media is the medium for everything and everyone.
In the era of conventional media, to fight or respond to fake news or misinformation could take up days and create chaos, but now social media has speeded up this process very significantly. Any false claim can be fought immediately using the power of the Internet and social media. Websites like AltNews are doing this job incredibly well. Today, in India, all parties, especially their youth wings like the Youth Congress and Yuva Sena, have started using social media platforms for election campaigns and to criticise and attack the opposition. Many politicians, including PM Modi, use social media in place of conventional mediums to address people and connect with them.
During the historic anti-CAA-NRC protests, there wasn’t any leader or organisation organising the nationwide protests or gathering the masses. The people, who before these protests weren’t into politics or social movements, got engaged in the movement because of social media.
The hashtags used on social sites such as Twitter have become newsmakers of the social media age. An old poem Hum Dekhenge by Faiz Ahmed Faiz turned into #HumDekhenge, a slogan for any movement which challenged the authority, from anti-CAA protests to farmers’ protests.
A new way of protesting has been born — Twitter storm — where people use certain pre-decided hashtags and putup multiple posts on Twitter during a particular time on a certain day, which if done sufficiently puts the hashtag/s in the trending list and causes people to notice it even if they were not aware of it or did not have an opinion on it. Even news channels today decide their headlines observing such social media trends.
These types of awareness campaigns and their impact is the biggest reason behind the Indian government’s decision to ask Twitter to shut down accounts using hashtags related to the farmers’ protests in early February 2021. But even the act of shutting down those accounts caused a global reaction, forcing Twitter to restore those accounts. This whole series of events caused a great awareness about the government’s politics in India and across the world, prompting responses from various international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council and the US President who spoke about protecting free speech.
When American popstar Rihanna asked a simple question combined with a hashtag about the farmers’ protests and internet shutdowns, it sparked an aggressive reaction from the Indian government and Godi Media.
In school, we learned that India’s Constitution guarantees us several fundamental rights, and today the Supreme Court of India has said that the Internet is a fundamental right. A comment made on social media today can shake up society and influence the social narratives around us. Even an issue in the remotest place can become a global issue due to social media. That is the impact it has.
While responsible use of social media can result in public movements that result in governments revising their policy decisions and redressal of grievances, there are many who use this same platform to create communal hatred and frenzy. It is for this reason that platforms like Facebook are now more careful about not allowing bullying and spreading hatred through this medium. While social media has the power to do good, it can also be a negative force in the hands of trolls that are paid by vested interests to bully certain personalities and character assassinate them. But social media platforms are like the genie that have come out of the bottle and are difficult to put back into it.