Social Media Activism – Bane or Boon?
This week social media has made two more people famous. Jasleen Kaur allegedly got harassed at a traffic signal, took a picture of the offender Sarabjit Singh, posted it on Facebook and sparked off massive outrage in her support. Sarabjit’s picture was shared thousands of times like he was a petty criminal, news anchors expressed their disgust at his ‘perverted’ behavior, he eventually got arrested, the mainstream media patted itself on the back for a job well done and for putting a ‘creep’ in his place, and all was good.
Only the next day, contrary reports started pouring in. Someone finally bothered to take Sarabjit’s side of the story as well. An eyewitness spoke up. Turned out that the girl had been regulating traffic and had stopped Sarabjit from taking a left turn, at which they may have exchanged some words, with the eyewitness saying that it was the girl who used vulgar language, not the guy. Oh the travesty! So was he not the sexual offender roaming the streets of Delhi he had been made out to be? Was it a petty argument that had been made out into a massive sexual harassment case to teach him a lesson?
So. Job well done. An ostensibly innocent person ended up spending some time behind bars and will spend the next few years doing rounds of courts to get his charges disposed off.
Good work, social media. You did well there.
While I understand that women in India are a harried lot and our country is full of sexist men who treat ladies like dirt, social media has suddenly opened up a Pandora’s box. Imagine you are going to work. Your car scrapes another car. Out emerges an angry lady, you get into the typical tu tu main main argument, she takes a picture and writes a Facebook post on how you hit her car and then molested her when she questioned you. It soon gets shared thousands of times, there’s news reporters lined up outside your home, you get arrested, you lose your job. Your life is over.
(Of course another equally likely scenario is that the person in the car gets out, man or woman, takes a gun and shoots you point blank for showing the temerity of arguing with them. Our roads make our lives worth living. We are cool like that.)
This may be an exaggerated scenario but is quite plausible. How social and mainstream media works these days, nobody has the time for a nuanced debate. Where opinions are strong and judgments are quick and harsh. You are pronounced guilty without any chance of justifying yourself. We are the mob raiding the palaces in the French Revolution, baying for heads to be cut off, with our celebrated news anchors holding the trigger to the guillotines.
The one who writes a more passionate post gets sympathy. The one whose phone takes better pictures claims to be victim. In our eagerness to correct the gender imbalance, we quickly latch on, call the girl a brave-heart, hero, inspiration, and the police offers her an award for her ‘bravery’.
A wise man once said – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. But these modern times of kalyug don’t know responsibility. We’d rather settle scores the quick way, morality be damned. Social media lets our voice get heard. It gives us the chance to ‘go viral’, to be on news, to be famous.
While some people may misuse this power to garner our sympathy and get their agenda out, what do we the hapless, naive bystanders who perform our duty by sharing, liking and retweeting every time we come across reports of people being harassed by others do? Whom to trust? Whom not to trust? [I would insert an image of a hapless banarasi sari clad housewife from an Ekta Kapoor show but then the feminists would not like such gross objectification]
On the one hand we have our judicial system which doesn’t inspire a lot of trust in the common man. People get falsely accused and cases drag on for years though still eventually both sides at least get the chance to get heard. Compare this to social media justice, where people waste no time in trying to look at evidence or listening to both sides before the ‘offender’ starts getting named and shamed. Of course, any dissenting people get called misogynists and are duly told to shut up. Modern feminism (at least the type I see on social media) is blind to logic at times.
What’s the way out? Social media provides an easy outlet for aggrieved people but I would now look at any of the ‘viral’ posts on social media with grave suspicion. Which in itself is quite sad. A few bad apples spoil it for everybody else.
Our only hope is for Indian judiciary and law and order to step up and become more efficient. More presence of police on the ground. More effective enforcement of the many laws and rules we have. The courts to dispose of cases on time and not spend years deliberating while they drag on across generations. Less need for mob justice, both offline or online.
As for mainstream media, the less said the better. Maybe we should just stop watching news channels. They anyway give me high blood pressure.