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Why ‘Digital Nationalists’ Are Destructive For India’s Democracy

Posted by atiya anis
May 3, 2017

Social media has become an everyday-companion in our lives. It is the first thing we browse after rising up and the last thing we hit before going to sleep, besides the hours we spend throughout the day.  With 166 million monthly active users in India, Facebook is slowly becoming an addiction. The same is true for WhatsApp, which has become a life-line with over 200 million users in India.

Since we Indians excel in making the best of everything, we invariably become parts of groups (on social media) without prior information or consent. In the next stage, we are often bombarded with irrelevant messages that, in no way, relate to the purpose of the group. But that’s excusable, since the puzzle of why we answer anything between ‘B’ to ‘Z’, when asked about ‘A’, is still unsolved. Being a patriotic Indian, I am fine with this puzzle – but what doesn’t make sense to me is the current, overflowing sense of ‘digital nationalism’, for which the internet-accessing urban population is mainly responsible.

Even on professional social media groups, I keep getting videos and messages that openly and proudly advocate war, hatred and killings. One such video, which I viewed recently, was shared by a mother of two toddlers. The video talked of burning Pakistan and featured images of men, with swords and weapons in their hands, chanting Jai Hindu and Jai Sri Ram and abusing Muslims. Similarly, there are numerous doctored and fake videos doing the rounds to brainwash people into believing something which is non-existent. Praises for Modi and Yogi Adityanath often surface in discussions in tones that leave no scope for disagreement.

These chest-thumping ‘digital nationalists’, who can be seen in many parts of the country, are very eager to replace conversations with bombs and bullets. Social media is the god that knows it all. Opinions are unilaterally formed and judgements are pronounced. Facebook decides that the salvation of our country rests on war with Pakistan.

Kashmir is our pride. So, every citizen on FB, Twitter and WhatsApp who has never been to Kashmir, or is faintly acquainted with the painful history behind the partition and legacy of Kashmir, hates and abuses Kahmiris, and brands them as terrorists is damn sure that we should fight for Kashmir.  The messages are sometimes ironical and creating a rift within the country. These messages generally equate Pakistan, Kashmir and Muslims as enemies and call for their killing, rape and burning. We are blinded by hatred, and the inability to see beyond ‘digital patriotism’ is making us emotionally-bankrupt and mentally-malnourished.

Being a communicator by profession, I have no doubts about the power of social media as an impactful influencer. The continuing damage is going to cost us dearly, and will leave people and relationships scarred for life. Our Facebook posts, Twitterati battles and WhatsApp messages would are liked, re-tweeted and shared across social media, in a matter of seconds – thereby, making it seem ‘all-encompassing’, just like reality is.  Wearing patriotism on your sleeves is the new fashion – the louder the better. In fact, there is an aggression, anger and unwillingness to listen to any alternative explanation.

There are organised troll-gangs who have surpassed all levels of nationalism. They are ‘new-age freedom fighters’, here to save mother India by abusing, hurling sexist messages and sending rape threats online. The anonymity given by internet has lifted the moral constrains and social etiquette that would have regulated our behaviour, otherwise. People frustrated by their lack of accomplishments have always used the power they yield over women and weaker sections of society, for their self-gratification. Trolling pumps the adrenaline-rush of such sadist and dysfunctional people, who only feel important by attacking people.

Trolling is now a lucrative career-option, used by politicians for creating a mass following. As Swati Chaturvedi describes in her book, “I am a Troll”, this is the equivalent of a communally-charged mob out to burn down somebody’s home (or village) as part of a pogrom. The fact has been substantiated by the then-defense minister Manohar Parrikar’s comment on the removal of Aamir Khan from the Snapdeal campaign. He had said, “There was a team working on this. They were telling people to order and return. The company should learn a lesson; they had to pull the advertisement.” Without a face, these trolls can be anywhere and everywhere, ‘forcing’ you to see people as Hindus, Christians or Muslims.

The next time you like, re-tweet or forward such a post, you are falling prey to a well-framed and strategically-designed political agenda of a group. In fact, your sharing of one thematically negative or destructive message can easily influence 100 people who may not have the time or energy to go into the depth or the reality of issues.

In case, you are very keen on displaying your patriotism, it can easily be done offline. Just be in office on time, don’t cheat on work, pay your taxes, stop running after your chartered accountant on how to fake and save money, pay your bills honestly, stop bribing, don’t litter, follow traffic rules and respect your fellow countrymen even if they are poor, deprived, from another religion or caste. I am sure this very small list may seem too much for most, so you can just do this one thing – spend less time on social media, and more with people. Then you might learn the compassion that is fast disappearing from our lives.