A few days back, the internet was agog with the news of Indian actor and singer Priyanka Chopra being literally tormented on a social networking site when she decided to interact with her fans. The catch was that Chopra had asked her fans and followers to ask her ‘anything’ and she was in for a ride. The questions ranged from being hillarious to downright mean- from whether her toothpaste had salt in it, why a road should be named after her father or has she opted for plastic surgery. The general perception was that Chopra had run away after the uncomfortable questions kept piling up. The palpable collective glee of the world of Social Media on making somebody uncomfortable and making her run away, however, appeared to be extremely shocking and appalling to me.
To begin with, it was an “AMA” or “ask me anything” session, so I/we am/are nobody to judge the rationale behind asking a woman about her extremely personal choice of whether or not to opt for plastic surgery or not. It is her body and she has every right to mould it the way she wants. I often fail to understand the hypocrisy of people who often aggressively protest against the slut shaming mentality of the society based on the clothes women choose to wear, but take a completely different stand when somebody opts for plastic surgery. For me, it boils down to the same thing- my body and my choice and my expression. But before I digress, what I began with was about Social Media users gradually donning the character of the high school bully.
Social Media, for me and for many others have been a great boon for communication and expression. I feel that when the architects of our Constitution had formulated the idea of “Freedom of expression”, they definitely had something alike in mind. A medium where everybody could speak their mind, voice their opinion and articulate their thoughts. But, I am sorry to say that with every passing day, Social Media falls prey to the same evils as of mainstream media, the very mould that it had sought to break itself from.
Firstly, Social Media is not a free medium anymore. You can voice your opinion, but everytime I write something on my Facebook wall, I constantly think about repercussions, political and apolitical on myself and on my loved ones. The very notion of freedom has gone missing from the Social Media scene in India atleast, where FB/Twitter posts can land you up in jail. For people like me who have no claim to fame, Social Media was that welcome relief where even our voices were heard, or at least we thought so. But that was couple of years back. Not any more.
Secondly, the extreme stupidity and misogyny that is part and parcel of Social Media platforms nowadays. I mentioned the bullying part earlier. There is also the ocean of misinformation that makes you angry and more angry. Social Media began as a medium of free and fearless communication. I have no problem with it being a medium of propaganda. But there seems to be no limit of spreading rumours and making gender/sexual violence insensitive jokes. There are pages dedicated to jokes which garner thousands of likes about how the length of woman’s clothes have decreased with time or how the position of wife has changed and how in future the husband will be forced to do all the housework.
I regret that I am even friends with people who casually share all these jokes and even ‘like’ them. Make no mistake, I have made numerous friends on online platforms with whom I share common interests and if not for these platforms I would have never had the privilege of knowing these people. Nor would I have known about the bountiful of talent that people across borders, caste, religion had to offer. But at the same time, when a beautiful version of an Indian song sung by somebody from Middle East garners ‘viral’ attention, it is painful to see countrymen trivially fighting over issues as important as Rape, women’s safety on these platforms. The negativity and the insensitivity is shocking. And I say this because I have often felt the brunt. A few days back I shared an album (originally posted by somebody else) on FB about a woman’s right to wear or do anything with her body as per her own choice. A very dear childhood friend who is also a medical Doctor by education commented that where from did I get all these rubbish to post.
I have always maintained the stand that if anybody does not like seeing my posts or the photos I shared, there is an ‘unfriend’ option and also a ‘blocking’ option. I encourage them to follow either of the choices and I often do the same with people with whom I have virtually nothing in common. But that is a choice about difference of opinion and view points in life. A few days back I read somewhere that it is increasingly difficult being a woman on Social Media. And I whole heartedly agree. It was once the dream land that Indian woman cherished…one where they could voice their opinion freely like their male counterparts. The virtual freedom which was unimaginable on the roads or the living rooms, is now all but lost somewhere. And I speak about this from my personal experience. A few days back I had posted on my blog about why it was unfair to judge a woman’s character on the basis of her drinking or her party going habits. I had also shared the link on my FB page. What followed was a vitriolic debate where some of the well meaning gentlemen friends of mine also posted extremely negative comments. When I tried to point out to them that the fact that they were being judgemental about a woman’s character on the basis of her pub going habits, was indeed an indication of their misogyny, it was hell.
I will end my boring rant about the heartbreak called “Social Media” with another recent experience of mine. Recently, I had put up my blog for review on a nationwide blogging platform. My Gmail inbox indicated that somebody had replied and I had excitedly opened the mail. The guy seemed to have made comments about the blog designing and layout and everything. I felt happy since a reader’s view is always welcome. But the rude shock came when I read his comments about the content of my blog. He termed me a Feminist and told that he had a serious problem with my posts. Before you get me wrong, I do not mind being called a Feminist, why should I? Any body who even randomly follows my blog will know that I write about human stories and things that I feel is important for us- for everybody. And since when did voicing ones thoughts about the problems one faced in everyday life become a nasty thing? But yes, I do have a problem with the tone he uses the word ‘feminist’ – as if it is a dirty word and just because I decided to talk about certain issues, I had committed a crime.
We are living in the times when national election campaigns are designed with Social Media in mind, there are thousands of start ups out there who are waiting to encash on the popularity of the various online platforms and so, it is also extremely important that we decide whether we want to let the spirit of individuality and freedom continue on these platforms. Or should we just turn the mediums about just the picture perfect photo albums that we keep on posting and telling the world about how perfect our life is?
It is high time we decide.