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The double edged sword

 

Neerja Chowdhury is a veteran freelance political columnist and a commentator on Indian political affairs.
NEERJA CHOWDHURY | New Delhi, June 2, 2012 18:01
Tags : indian politics | social media | power of socila media |
 

There are many things to commend the social media, even for those of us who have spent all our lives in the comfort zone of the mainstream media. Social media with all the tools at its command today has expedited information flow, altered  the very concept of connectivity and revolutionised the entire media scene – the effects of which we are only beginning to feel in India. Much like a common man, the politicians everywhere are now setting up Facebook and Twitter accounts so that they can reach out to potential voters and they are hiring staff to handle these.

Also, it gives possible easy access to accurate information. In the past, if we wanted to check the right spelling of someone’s  name, we had to call the person or someone who knew her. Or, if we wanted background information for a story, say, for an event like the BJP national executive meet recently held in Mumbai, we would have to talk to several people who were in a position to recall the reasons for the souring of the relationship between Sanjay Joshi and Narendra Modi. Or to get hold of clippings—and newspaper libraries were not always well equipped or organised, so you had to keep your own notes carefully. Today, this kind of information is available in a couple of minutes.

Often, Twitter has broken news even before mainstream media got around to it. Given the challenge the new media is posing, established daily papers have been forced to start online editions. But the mainstream media continues to have its own place and it cannot be replaced.

The other aspect of the new media is its fantastic outreach. Many believe that the Arab spring had everything to do with the use of social media sites and mobile phone technology. Be it in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Syria, they kept people informed about what was going on in their countries, something the mainstream media had failed to provide. Such was the force of this pressure that the authorities had to go for the change of guard, leading to the overthrow of despotic rulers. It only went to prove how powerful this media had become.

Back home, Anna Hazare and his team used social media to great effect to reach out to people, to feel their pulse, invite them to programmes and depending on their response, to fashion future strategy. It was only later that the government caught on to the potency of the medium in Team Anna’s hands and Union Minister Salman Khurshid who was negotiating with them,  admitted as much.

The medium is resourceful, free and democratic, though this is a double edged weapon.  You can express yourself as you want. There is no editor’s pen to run through it to make it a little more palatable. The moneybags and the political powers have not been able to manipulate it. It is therefore a move away from censorship of any kind. Had the social media been in existence earlier, as Arun Jaitley pointed out in the Rajya Sabha,  it would have made censorship of the 1975-77 Emergency period very difficult to implement.

There is a raging debate on about whether, how much, and how to “regulate” the social media. There is the Information Technology Act of 2000, and some months ago the Government came up with Intermediaries Rules under the Act , which requires the Internet Service Provider to remove a content in 36 hours which is found to be objectionable. This faced criticism in and out of Parliament.

One hopes, to “regulate” the social media, is not tantamount to “controlling” it. There is a vast difference between the two.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017