Saturday, 25 August 2012

Is Social Media the real devil?

This post (part 1) is an attempt to place the Social Media in perspective, for the benefit of our Main Stream Media (MSM) anchors, and other panelists, who love to hit at the Social Media, generally, more so these days, in the context of Assam, law & order, politics, etc., etc. "MSM, the scare mongers?" is Part 2 - it dwells on to the issues of how  MSM anchors, expert panelists, and GoI have considered the Social Media (SM), their intent, some questions on what has gone wrong, and what should be done to retrieve the situation for the benefit of all. Your views are most welcome. 


Since the time violence broke out in Assam sometime in middle of July’12, our #MSM pundits began by calling it violence, riots, then ethnic violence, then, some shouted  communal violence, and, what not! Soon, the details tumbled out, and the inept handling by Congress government in Assam & Congress led UPA government at Centre became public knowledge. The strategy of Government has changed to blame the Internet & Social Media for their failures, to contain violence in Assam, some stray attacks on NE people in other parts of India, and spread of rumors that led to fleeing of about 50000 people to NE areas. To top it all, GoI came up with orders to block websites with ‘inflammatory content’, ‘hate speech’, and attempted to gag some people for spreading (mis)information, rumors, etc. Had they gone after the right ones, there should not have been any problem. But, as usual, it went after the wrong ‘Right’ ones, most of who happen to have nothing do with violence, spread of rumors, or spewing hate! The hidden intent of the rulers thus became visible, due to such callous decisions, executed in a very haphazard manner! To help the government, some spin meisters are working over time in Media shows with select anchors, busy shuttling between studios, and spinning columns for the print, while blog-world is full of both sides of the narrative.

So,a  lot of time has been devoted by MSM, television & print, to discuss the ‘evils of Social Media’. Theories, hypothesis are being spun with such great ease on how the SM  has caused or is causing more law & order problems, cyber war, cyber terrorism, and what not. Listening to them, you should imagine, that millions of Indians who are on Twitter or Facebook are going to go out with their guns, machetes, and what not, after skimming through the messages that are rumors, or, told them of violence! So much for responsible debating on this issue!

I thought, let me make an attempt to clear some clutter about Social Media, for the benefit of our Media Anchors, and, Experts on these panels. This is a bit long column. Hope you will read on until the end!

Since the scope of SM is quite wide, I am restricting this post mainly to Twitter, a leading micro-blogging service. Facebook, Google+, and Orkut offer a different kind of interaction, mainly among those who know each other (or, whom you allow to join your network). Blogs are sites hosted by individuals to express their views, share what they want to (Note: They need not, necessarily, agree with all they put out, when they share 3rd party information (assuming no copyright issues). It should be seen as information sharing on as-is basis, as long as they do NOT morph, edit to alter meaning of the original source content. Ideally, such sharing must provide a URL link to the source. Some may not do, for whatever reasons, best known to them.). More detailed information of what each of these services is available on many sites, tutorials. 

Many of us have heard of the phrase ‘Facebook Nation’. It simply tells you how big is this mass of users is! At the same time, its better to keep in mind that, it’s comprised of lots of  small islands (formed by group of  friends, family members) around each of these users. This is true for others like Google+, Orkut too.

Some facts about Twitter & Facebook:

1. Twitter: Twitter has about 15 Million Indian users and 500+ Million users globally (as of June’12). Though India is the 6th among Twitter user nations, none of its cities fall among the top 20 tweeting cities list! (Source: Semiocast -

It processes about 340+ million tweets per day, globally. It’s roughly about 150 GB data per day. 

2. Facebook: 53 Million Indian users: 48% are between 18-24 years, 28% between 25-34 years age. And, this is not even 5% of India’s population! FB has 900+ Million users globally.

Facebook processes 500+ Tera Bytes of Content daily (300 million photos, 2.5+ billion ‘Like’s. (Facebook’s was of saying I saw it – don’t read it always as ‘like’ in English!)
Facebook runs more than 30000 Servers. Its systems scan 105 terabytes of data every 30 minutes! (Source: TechCrunch:

And, its not for no reason, many experts call Facebook a Nation! At the same time a word of caution. Do not assume all these people on Facebook, are active users. Some big companies goofed up recently in an IPO, and the shocks are still being absorbed by those who suffered it!

Here are some generic observations on Twitter, based on my experience with it. You can call it a fish market (or, see it as, many soap bubble blowers networked), if you wish! Some shops attract more crowd, some very few! Even in shops with huge crowd, it’s not necessary that everyone buys (into) what the shop is selling! So, if you think a tweet as a fish, some may like it, buy (share) it, or totally ignore it! Many a times, a very good (it’s so subjective to say it) tweet finds no takers! Blame it on disinterest of the crowd, or, the timing, or their not-liking it for whatever reasons! There’s no way to know. Also, the Twitter time line is like a flowing river, or, a turbulent sea, depending on the overall activity! So, a tweet is simply swept away in no time, unless a few more like it, share it, reply to it, etc. If not, it’s gone! It stays on your timeline, but the old ones are not that easily accessed, unless some inquisitive follower digs through your TL! So, there’s less likely chance of what was said by you a few hours, or, few days ago, being actively debated.

Note: Those who confuse followers with loyal supporters may please spend a few minutes to read this article from CNET. In one line, for our purposes, it states, Followers don't necessarily equal influence on Twitter! (From: ->

So much of gyan baazi! I had to share the background on the magnitude of Social Media and also place in perspective how information flows there, for the benefit of our debating fraternity on MSM.  

Hope you found the above useful. You may please read part 2 it deals with how India's MSM & the establishment are treating SM. 

MSM, the scare mongers? Politicians, the beneficiaries?

This is the 2nd part of the series on how MSM has treated SM in the context of Assam and in general in present political situation. This post looks at how MSM reacts to Social Media chatter, and, also attempts to examine the knee-jerk reaction by the rulers, and dare to suggest  some solutions! (Part 1 – Is Social Media the Real Devil?)

I am not at all attempting to suggest people do not use these Social Media sites to spread hate, spread rumors, etc. It does happen, but then, there are enough remedial measures. Effectiveness of these measures is, again, subjective view.  But such hate speech, rumor mongering is not limited to unknown, or, anonymous, people, or only to Social Media also. Some media personalities, politicians, too indulge in such activity. But, then, followers, or trolls, do try to counter them. So, very few of such irresponsible comments by well known people go unanswered. Many a times they are forced to apologize, and, delete such comments.

Many of us have seen quite a few media personalities, cyber pundits, politicians, taking the word ‘followers’ for its traditional meaning. But, on Twitter, not all followers are “Followers” of your vision, ideas, and ideologies! There are the curious onlookers, strong critics, mild opponents, and, media people (for nuggets of information they can use in their works), etc. And, then there are some whom the MSM loves to call ‘trolls’. Those who question anything that is wrong, or is in conflict with their ideas / ideologies. Some do it in decent ways, trying to point out wrongs, use satire, sarcasm, or humor (again, each reader may perceive it differently, due to many factors). Some, unfortunately, use indecent methods! They use abusive, and very obscene, words to target the person, than the thought in a tweet / comment. It simply shows their intellectual inability to counter an idea effectively. The intent of the rage, may be genuine, but expressed in unjustifiable and, wrong ways. Can anyone stop it? Technically YES – there are processes available for reporting, blocking, etc. But, it’s easy for anyone to take a new avatar, by creating another identity. This is the boon, and bane, of Social Media.

We have also seen some journalists using the tag #TrollBait these days to tease, and invite trolls to abuse! Some proclaim themselves to be Troll slayers! So, they get some kind of (sadistic?) pleasure in defeating an opponent! As long as it is done in words, using satire, it is fine. Hope no one really attempts to slay in real physical way!

Those of us who know the working of SM agonize when we see in the innumerable debates on the TV networks, or in the writings of some of the experts, unsupported claims on the dangers of ‘unregulated’ Social Media (SM) & the Internet. To those who don’t know how internet & SM works, these scares would seem very real. Going by some of the (stupid?!) arguments put out one should expect a civil war to break out just because somebody tweeted, and a few more re-tweeted it. Many of these ‘experts’ who use twitter do spout their views on such fears online too. Here the ‘followers’ do respond. But, they may not get a reply if the person chooses to ignore. Quite a few of these ‘fear mongering’ expert media personalities holding high positions,  also abuse, block anyone who questions them (persistently), even when they use civil language. Many of the MSM do not use the option of ‘Ignore’ – human nature does not allow a person to take a hit on the chin, that easily!

Many months ago, Mr. Kapil Sibal tried to order pre-screening of the content that goes on Twitter, Facebook, etc. He was ill-prepared, and ill-advised, to speak on this matter. And, that resulted in him being the butt of jokes, and tweets, with a lot of embarrassment for GoI. A case had been filed, by a ‘concerned’ citizen, in a Delhi Court, but the real intent of both measures, as knowledgeable people deciphered soon, was to curb views critical of Congress leaders. Reports released by Google and others show how many requests are made by different Governments to block, or remove, content that’s online. GoI has bested many (incl. some non-democratic ones) nations here! I agree, whatever outright filthy, obscene, must not be allowed to stay on. These platforms have mechanisms to report for action to take them down. GoI, and some pundits, thought they should be pre-screened, or taken down automatically. The Government’s lack of understanding of the SM to block some patently wrong content, did not work (fully) as per its plans. Simply because the party sycophants wanted to use the Government power to push its plan and paint its leaders in shining colors!

Any vigilant administration should have learnt from this fiasco. But the UPA Government has repeated the same blunder in the context of Assam Riots. Some of the Pakistani bloggers had exposed the misuse of images from Thailand, Tibet, China, Delhi, etc by vested interests in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh to incite local Muslim masses. Neither the govt intel (cyber monitoring) agencies, nor anyone in the MSM in India, took note of the blogs. The government was caught napping. It’s simply because there are so many blogs, and it had probably not deployed the right tools to crawl the web. This Faraz Ahmed, who exposed the evil designs, was an unknown entity to many in outside world, until some days. (Its indeed ironic, his blog post figures in the block list.)

The #MSM diverted the debate, may be due to instructions by some party bosses, from real issues that caused the riots, failure of administration to stop it, and stop the rumor mongers from spreading hate. As it turned out, in cities like Pune, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, some people of the NE areas were subjected to physical violence, intimidation, threats, direct, indirect, subtle, and not-so-subtle. Lot of the rumors were spread via SMS messages, handbills, and direct one-to-one interaction by the trouble makers. It was not by tweets, or thru Facebook. The hate mongers may have used information from various sources, including Facebook, and morphed the images, or added text to change explanation of the original images. One of the persons, arrested in Bangalore, has reportedly sent 20000 SMS messages, by using multiple phones, changing SIM cards! (It’s really not a simple task. It cost money, and time. Who paid for it? I hope investigators unravel full details. This incident shows how committed was he to ensure trouble spreads.) So far, all the arrested in various cities, for indulging in violence, rumors, are from the same Muslim community, whom our rulers tries to paint as victims. 

The media which conveniently professes criminals or rioters have no religion, doesn’t waste a second to pounce on alleged ‘Saffron terror’. In the recent Pune blasts case, a reporter from a mainstream news channel (CNNIBN) accused a Hindu group, without any evidence (later on it has come to light that its work of IM- Indian Mujahideen - I know accusing any Muslim organization without evidence is also wrong. If it’s a jihadi group, no right thinking Muslim should feel offended. It’s a mystery why the MSM thinks when a Jihadi organization is to be named it paints ALL Muslims as bad! But, when facts emerge, some sections of MSM do try to hide the facts.

The problem, in my view, also lies with educated, liberal, Muslims, who do not stop these MSM, and the vested interests among their leadership, from tagging all with such extremist views. One wonders why the MSM does NOT give space to truly sane Muslim voices. Why do the (pro-)extremist view peddlers get space? And, worse still, they are branded secular! So, what we end up seeing is tit-for-tat counters than objective debating. We see the same Teestas, Javed Anands, Owaisi (saabs), etc., in panel discussions. Will MSM take note to bring more sane voices to the studio, please? Or, it hurts “the anything for TRP” model?

Such biased reporting shows that a many in the TV & print news media have lost the sense of ethical reporting. What we see is deliberate ways to promote some interests, and divert attention from ‘inconvenient’ truths. They mix their ideological, political bent to color the news. This is where the real danger and tragedy lies. They have been able to do this without major opposition from their studios, editorial offices. When persistently questioned, on social mediums like Twitter, some of them have sheepishly, reluctantly, admitted to what sells, why they do so. This is where the small percentage of users on Social Media have made it difficult for key people in media, and parties, who compromised their duty to propagate a partisan view & interests. Such activism has perturbed the MSM & rulers (mainly the ruling Congress party), to execute this ham-handed action to muzzle the Social Media.

So, in this context, the orders for banning some of the content on the web, and Facebook / Twitter accounts raises many concerns.

If one observes the 16+ twitter accounts the Government wants blocked, apart from some fake, some parody accounts of PMO, we see that they are NOT rumor mongers. The government is yet to explain why accounts of Mr. Kanchan Gupta, and Mr. Shiv Aroor are ordered to be blocked. So far, I have not seen Headlines Today taking a strong position on the totally uncalled for action of GoI on Shiv Aroor. I hope they will make a statement, or a report to question the GoI action.

There are some fundamental questions on how the GoI arrived at its decision on blocking the Twitter accounts and some URLs. I believe, GoI, and the MSM, have a lot to answer for.

  1. On what basis did the GoI identify these 16+ accounts? Knowing many of these accounts by regular interaction, I can say the Government has shot in the wrong direction, to actually muzzle anti-Congress views in many cases.
  2. Why the GoI did not find it prudent to give any notice to the individuals to seek clarifications?
  3. Will the GoI explain what objectionable content or activity did they observe in each case?
  4. How did the tweets of these people impact the situation in Assam, or cause NE people to flee from southern & central Indian states?
  5. Is it not a fact that there are many jihadi activists, or Muslim organizations, and some  Urdu media, with access to Twitter / Facebook? How many of them have been banned or blocked?
  6. On what basis did the Government order blocking of whistle blower sites, news articles which reported the news?
  7. Its a fact, per cursory examination of some of the blocked content, the hate mongers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, or even local folks, have used visual clips, reports of MSM, and just added their twist in some opening and closing parts of it without morphing, altering the commentary? I did notice an NDTV clip used in one such URL (by a Muslim organization from across the border). A Tehelka post on Facebook was also among the many such instances. Now, how many of these were the creations of any ‘Internet Hindu’, or Hindu organizations? Has the GoI got any evidence to prove it?
  8. Times of India said 20% of the blocked sites belong to Hindus. A cheeky way of hiding that 80% were creation of Muslim organizations?! Why didn’t Times of India write the other way? Will they explain, apologize for this hate mongering against Hindus? Do they think their readers are idiots to not ask who are the 80% whom ToI does not mention? Or, is it a smart way to subvert GoI censoring them? 
  9. On what basis did the Government block search of the word “Assam” itself in some of these sites? While a search eases one’s work, it does not stop one from finding what they want to. It takes time, but not impossible.
  10. The parody, or, in some cases, fake, accounts is another tale. The Government must know it has better work to do than bother about such accounts. The official PMO account has already been verified by Twitter, as can be seen by the Blue Tick Mark. If GoI, thru its PR body, sends official communication to media houses, other states Government. organizations, and foreign embassies, they know whom to follow for official information from PMO. In a democracy, where free speech is allowed, one can never block, stop people from speaking, making fun of, on issues. Why is the GoI wasting so much time, and, money, on such frivolous exercise of going after some parody accounts, making itself the butt of jokes?

Now to concluding thoughts, some solutions to use, interact, and tackle the beast that is Social Media!

  1. GoI, governance is a real world activity. So, please focus on effective, efficient, real world administration. You can’t govern Social Media! It’s going to be self-governed! It will be better for GoI, State Administrations, and MSM to stop wasting time & money on what some people say on Social Media. Any (further) attempts to muzzle SM voices  only exposes the intent that the rulers have things to hide, and people on SM are not allowing them a free ride! If there is truly zero loss in many scams, and many people are being let of by courts, why bother with Social Media chatter? If not, then you are telling us why you are going after the people who question you! BTW, the 16+ is a small sample of the many thousands, if not lakhs, who do not subscribe to the same views of MSM and GoI. Do you think you can stop all of them?
  2. Government can ask some of its key dept.s to identify responsible people who can share Government view, or policy, via social media. Mind you it’s a cost and huge effort. The best way is to keep your information available, accessible, deploy tools that publish the link to such information. A small team per state Government, and central Government  can be set up by GoI as SM interaction executives, who take inputs, respond in a efficient, sensitive, and sensible, non-red-tape manner, and then take up with the Government dept concerned to make use of the input / queries.
  3. There is no need to press panic button on what is being shared by people on Social Media. In fact, if at all one is intelligent enough, its better to watch the chatter that goes on in this media, without making noise. USA and some other countries to monitor the chatter to sift intelligence. The cyber expert who promoted a China or Iran like approach to SM, on some TV shows is so out of touch with reality. But, then he is a lawyer, not an intel specialist. Laws that are not enforced uniformly, or non-enforceable laws, are useless. We will continue to see such ‘violations’, and more wasted debates.
  4. Its evident many in #MSM and pundits, lawyers, politicians do not know the nuances of Social Media. Yes, its game changer! They do not know how to play it. So, they are rattled by the few who question them! You get rattled only when you are doing something wrong! So, its time to re-visit your personal goals, ambitions, and your media organizations role and objectives. If you are using your position to promote some specific interests, do not be on Social Media. You will be questioned vigorously, and, exposed! If you really want to be in politics, kindly jump in! But, do not use your position in Media to further those interests!!
  5. The best way for MSM folks is to be totally neutral in your job, and do not use your twitter handle for any ‘personal’ / controversial views. If you truly want it to be personal, keep the account private. Do not use it to promote any official work. Interact with only those whom you know personally. The moment you keep your account open, mix personal with official views, you invite responses.
  6. There will always be rumors, hate speech on any medium. It did not begin with Social Media. It’s only that the rumors spread with fast with new technology. Do you want to go back to only print media, handwritten bills, or cyclo-styled printing days?
  7. If the Main Stream Media stops spreading rumors, mixing facts with fiction, reporting un-verified news, and add own views, its going to reduce lot of rumors on Social Media. The death of two police officials injured in the recent Mumbai Azad Maidan ‘peaceful’ protest was done first by Aajtak, tweeted by some H/today journalist. Where was the need to tweet unverified news? Has any channel so far visited their family to give a true picture so far? They do many flimsy interviews in many small incidents. Here was the news of two officials (one said he was ACP, another says he is an Inspector. The other lady constable one says pregnant, somebody else says no such lady constable by that name was deployed for duty or injured!) Where are the facts? I still do not know if the news by #Aajtak is to be taken as rumor. It happened a day before Eid. So, a nervous Government may have wanted to quell any potential for ugly repercussions.
  8. Once a tweet is sent out, there is very little chance of one stopping it from spreading. Once somebody retweets, it spreads even if the original is deleted. A re-tweet takes the form of a new tweet in technological sense. So, any amount of ranting by the concerned people on Twitter, or on TV shows, is going to be ineffective. So, dear MSM folks, TWEET RESPONSIBLY.
  9. Sagarika Ghose, Rajdeep Sardesai, and some from  other media houses, are known to tweet in irresponsible ways at times. Many of us have the snap shots of their tweets. Some of the vigilant MSM watchers were among the 16 blocked tweeple. This fact itself gives enough hints that the GoI block order was influenced not to target rumor mongers, but to try and curb those who question the biased ways of MSM and the corrupt practices of some in the ruling lot. Any effort to silence the people would mean an invitation to many more to wake up, and take up, the issues!
  10. Twitter is NOT your TV studio! Do not treat it as one way tool. If you are uncomfortable with it, do not use it. If you use it, be responsive, and responsible. No one, in general, has a personal grudge to go after you. The 4th pillar is expected to be unbiased, vigilant, & fearless. People who read them need a place to voice their views. As the vested interests in media houses have tried to muzzle the alternate view, Social Media has given people the option to question them. If you realize this and change your approach to work, you would do yourself, and the nation, a great service. Social Media is here to stay! It can neither be wished away, nor trampled upon!
Truth is like small grass, it does not need much support to grow. It grows slowly, but, far and wide. But, the corrupt go up the ladder fast, using various crutches. One fine day, the dried grass shall burn everything with unimaginable rage, and, consequences. So, the Media has a great responsibility to not become the crutch of the corrupt. I hope our MSM anchors (and, the rulers) who were enthralled to live report the Arab Spring, do well to remember what it did to the regimes there!