This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Sujayendra Krishna Nellore. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

WhatsApp Uncle Never Lies

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If I had a rupee every time someone – typically middle-aged or older – said that social media was ruining the youth of the country, I would be rich enough to pay off Vijay Mallya’s loans.

Of course, the usual reaction upon hearing this is a roll of the eyes and maybe a ‘whatever!’ with a lilt that would put even white girls to shame, the truly amusing part of this happens when you open WhatsApp and make the mistake of checking your family group, only to see that the same people who told you off for using social media are now currently forwarding messages that were probably crafted by the BJP’s IT Cell.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort to not laugh in the face of a person who tells you that social media is ruining you, when they are guilty of consuming propaganda and actually believing everything they are lied to about. Not only will it make them hate me more – which frankly does not bother me that much – but when you so openly mock someone for their beliefs by laughing on their face, it only serves to entrench them in the beliefs they heard from WhatsApp.

Of course, this is in no way implying that social media is all sunshine and roses. There are too many people out there who sit behind a screen in AC rooms and type out hate-filled messages they wouldn’t dare utter in real life. In fact, it took me quite a while before I could be proud of the beliefs I held and defend them as well as I would online. The learning process of getting there has certainly made me more tolerant of others, but quite critical of some.

Which brings us to the topic at hand. With the population of the country coming online in thousands every other week (thanks, Mukesh Ambani), BJP’s polarisation tactics using social media and instant messaging platforms like WhatsApp have an increasingly large number of people to reach and radicalise.

Pointing out the obviously dubious nature of these messages often leads to arguments, accusations of being a communist, being told that I – a 25-year-old man – am too young to understand and of course, everyone’s favourite insult: being labelled an ‘anti-national’ and complaining to my parents about how I have become a Bigda Hua Ladka. It makes me wonder how much these folks would have hated me if I were a woman.

“You think Sharma Ji will lie about this?” bellows a relative in all caps on the WhatsApp family group, “He is much more qualified than you and has seen more life than you have, you spoilt brat!” 

“So you’re telling me that you believe this forward just on the basis of who sent it to you?” I ask, knowing full well what the answer was going to be. In fact, so do you.

Sharma uncle never lies, or so says my cousin who is still trapped in the family bhakti for the BJP. Sharma uncle is, after all, a highly educated person who earns a hefty paycheck and has promised to marry off his daughter with a hefty dowry and gifts worth lakhs. Why would anyone selling their daughter’s vagina be a big enough fool to believe an obvious lie? I mean sure, Sharma Ji ki beti has been under practical house arrest because her father thinks there are Muslims out there actively hunting for fair skinned Brahmin girls to marry in the name of Love Jihad, what does it matter if they live in Canada?

Might have gone a little bit off rails up there.

The point is, the reason why propaganda works and spreads so effectively on WhatsApp and other social media sites is that they prey on a person with some form of power or control over others to share something dishonest and pass it off as the truth. A person with a large social media presence, for instance, can influence those who follow them. A person who is generally well respected in society saying something often translates to that something being taken as the truth because the first obvious question in a common person’s head would be why would they lie?

Considering that respect in Indian society is heavily placed on those who keep their heads down, study and benefit from their privilege, not daring to question their elders or speak out of turn (or exist, in the case of women), it is no surprise that the same kind of gullible people when they themselves become elders are in a position that can be easily influenced, thus starting a chain of propaganda.

It is a form of social engineering. Everyone and their mothers have a smartphone and access to the internet now, many of them who are integral parts of their family unit. Most of us sceptics start questioning everything as we grow up, but there are way too many who would be just as happy to stay ignorant and believe whatever their elders tell them without questioning it. Why? Because it is against our culture and because the alternative would mean breaking years of conditioning. Considering social engineering relies on psychological manipulation to reduce inhibitions, who better to manipulate than the elders we are supposed to ‘respect’?

I do realise this sounds like a rant but I am honestly tired of telling my family to stop and check their sources before they tell me someone found Lord Hanuman’s bones again. Why does the pursuit of truth make me a Bigda Hua Ladka? Isn’t that something all of us should be actively striving towards? The advent of smartphones and instant messaging was supposed to bring the world closer together, but it has done its best to polarise people simply because we refuse to believe that someone we trust can lie to us and that anyone else telling you otherwise is an enemy.

We have been reduced to bad boys or bad girls, our education questioned, our marriages planned for speaking out and refusing to salute Dear Leader every time he manages to spot the camera at events like that is his mutant power or something.

Dissent is dying, propaganda runs on the information highways. If standing up against blatant propaganda and standing in support for dissent makes me a Bigda Hua Ladka, then so be it. I’m just as happy as you are when you scurry away at my sight during family functions, believe me on that one.

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