An editor scrolls through social media. AFP Photo
It is largely unprecedented for the whole world to enter lockdown in phases, trying to fight a virus whose origins and modus operandi remain largely unknown. Every few weeks, the prospect of a vaccine emerges. Every few days, a new conspiracy theory emerges.
And those of us who are under lockdown have begun to reconcile ourselves to uncertainty. We don’t know when the curbs will be lifted; we don’t know when there will be more curbs; we don’t know when our salaries will come in; we don’t know whether our flight tickets will be reimbursed or we will have to make do with a ‘voucher’ that will only pay part of a ticket once air travel resumes.
We have made peace with long queues at grocery stores, with people edging closer and not wearing masks despite safety precautions being announced constantly; we have made peace with forty-second wait times for every phone call as the tired message about the coronavirus plays; we have made peace with being stopped and questioned by the police when we’re out on genuine errands because we know our countrymen cannot be trusted to stay safe without checks.
Organisations that were loath to let people work from home or access ‘sensitive data’ from elsewhere have been forced to conduct meetings over Zoom and work virtually.
People who used to cough without protection now rush to beat up anyone who makes so much as an involuntary sound in public.
Animals have reclaimed roads from which they used to be chased away.
The one thing that has remained largely unchanged is social media.
And perhaps it’s time for a reckoning.
Since the lockdown began, life has turned virtual, and everyone is exploiting the avenues that social media offers. The arts have stepped up, with various cultural organisations getting artists on board for music and dance lecture demonstrations.
Book launches have gone online, and reclusive authors have begun to appear on Instagram Lives. Several literature festivals and literary discussions have been taking place online.
And who cares if we can’t spot Taimur at airports? We still know how Deepika Padukone looks without makeup, what Katrina Kaif is wearing, what Sunny Leone had for breakfast, and who misses which BFF.
But just as Instagram is finally being used for borderline cerebral discussions, the vitriol on social media refuses to go away. In fact, the ugly side may have just got uglier.
For some time, I’ve been thinking how similar the Far Right and Far Left are, in their behaviour if not in their politics.
It appears people simply cannot take anything lightly anymore, and everyone is keen to get offended.
So it is that a silly video by Kartik Aryan becomes a comment on domestic violence. It is a time when everyone is beginning to get on everyone else’s nerves at home. If Kartik Aryan were more clued in to the ‘calling-out culture’, he could have had his sister throwing him out of the window instead and become a poster-boy for subversion. But in a sane world, neither of these things would happen. In an ideal world, no one would care much for a video by Kartik Aryan, but that’s beside the point.
The rage with which social media reacted to his video, with people trolling him for supporting domestic abuse both in his films and in real life, should not entirely surprise us. We live in a world where everyone is happy to ‘call out’ everyone else in public, where spouses tweet their political disagreements at each other, and their conversation gets ‘retweeted’ and ‘liked’.
Soon after, Kangana Ranaut’s sister Rangoli Chandel – who was or is most famous for trolling her sister’s colleagues and former colleagues until and since she temporarily became a role model for speaking about acid violence – was suspended from Twitter. Chandel had been ranting, as she usually does. Only, this time, a mass decision was made by self-proclaimed liberals to report her for hate speech.
Ironically, there was a temporary mass migration from Twitter – immediately christened ‘birdsite’ by the migrants – to Mastodon, after some of their accounts were suspended due to reporting by the self-proclaimed guardians of Indian culture. But the birds didn’t seem to want to leave the nest after all, and have been swinging between Twitter and Mastodon since. The birds also appear to change their views on free speech depending on the speaker.
It doesn’t particularly concern me that Rangoli Chandel is no longer on Twitter. I wouldn’t have known about her account being suspended if four different websites hadn’t reported that Kangana Ranaut had been booked for the content in a video she had made in support of her sister.
What does concern me is that the exchange between Chandel and her interlocutors was ugly and personal from both sides. It is worrying when people who claim to stand for a certain set of liberal values make personal, judgemental remarks. It is worrying that when DP speaks to DP and finds validation from other DPs, we lose sight of all the social decorum we would maintain face to face.
Perhaps this is a time for us to slow down and think about our social media behaviour. A joke may be in bad taste. A tweet may be in bad taste. But are spewing venom and gagging one’s opponent the right solutions?
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end
Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: www.nandinikrishnan.com