Skip to main content

Conclave #NetizensForDemocracy seeks to "reclaim" internet, empower social media

By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*
Given the significance of the subject and the urgency which it entailed – it was an event that had to happen! Netizens for Democracy held a day long conclave on ‘Social Media as a Tool’, of Indian netizens who believe in the power of social media and want to use it to bring about sustainable and positive social change. It was held on January 19, 2019 at Fr Agnel’s Campus in Bandra, Mumbai.
The conclave brought together some of the most well-known names of the country -- all concerned about what is happening in the India today and the need to do something immediately and collectively. It was certainly a heady mix of youth leaders, journalists, activists and celebrities. They deliberated on how to spot and stop fake news, deal effectively with trolls and check the spread of hate and vitriol on social media. It was a quest for solutions that help us essentially hold our own while preserving the dignity of the platform and our own sanity, in India at this crucial socio-political juncture.
Most importantly, the conclave was a quest for ways and means to empower people from some of the most vulnerable sections of society, in order to strengthen our democracy. Social media all over the world, and particularly in India, is today recognized as a valuable tool for giving voice to entrenched interests, especially when marginalized sections excluded from access to the mainstream media in general, have creatively used this space for expression on issues fast recognized as the ‘deep dark underbellies’ of our society.
The conclave emphasized the belief that social media can be a powerful tool in the hands of good and socially conscious citizens who can use it to create awareness, provide encouragement and bring renewed vigour to the culture of dialogue and discussion in our vibrant democracy.
Every session of the conclave was invigorating and provided much food for thought and concerted action. The honours of the inaugural session was done by Prashant Bhushan, Justice Abhay Thipsay and Sambhaji Bhagat. Sambhaji also regaled the audience with a stirring Lokshahir performance, in his own unique style. 'Media in Times of a Majoritarian State'  was anchored by Teesta Setalvad with powerful insights from Prashant Bhushan and Dilip Mandal. This was followed with another ground reality dialogue on 'Combating Hate' between Ruben Mascarenhas and Rachna Awatramani.
Subalterns had their say in the session on 'Shining the Light on Subaltern Voices'; Arfa Khanum, Divya Kandukuri and Abhay Xaxa left no stone unturned to highlight the plight of the minorities, Dalits and Adivasis in the country today. Durgesh Pathak in 'Crafting a Connect: Online Support and Grassroots Change', emphasized the need for change at the grassroots. Akash Banerjee provided a greater awareness to the reality that is taking place on the net today.
Shashi Tharoor minced no words when he said that “trolling is an organized technique of the ruling party”. Later, Abhisar Sharma, Umar Khalid, Gurmehar Kaur, Sanjukta Basu and Preeti Sharma Menon elaborated with their personal experiences of how censorship and trolls was the bane of the country today. It was certainly "the March that touched a hundred million hearts" when CPI(M) leader Ashok Dhawale and seven-time MLA JP Gavit of the CPI(M) from Surgana and Kalwan, Maharashtra, spoke about the 30,000-strong historic Kisan March and how the netizens of Maharashtra had so effectively contributed to it.
Nandita Das was candid when she shared on the topic, 'My Journey with Social Media – A Hesitant Relationship'. Jency Jacob, Kishore Mandhyan and Pankaj Jain gave the audience numerous instances of the ‘Spread of Hate and Fake News on Social Media’ – particularly by the ruling dispensation. Rajdeep Sardesai, was at his eloquent best when he spoke on ‘Hate, Hype and Dialogue’; he asserted that, ‘citizens need to wake up now and act- before it is too late! The session, 'Organising Social Media Beast for Change', which was moderated by Rajdeep Sardesai, had some eminent panelists like Richa Singh, Dilip Mandal, Jairas Banaji, Jaaved Jaaferi and Harish Iyer.
Before the end of the conclave the announcement of a new app ‘Hate Hatao' was also made. It will be launched on January 30 by the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) with the specific intention of fighting the spread of hate on social media. The app will pursue all hate related posts, videos, threats etc., and will take up these matters with the National Human Rights Commission, the Press Council of India and other appropriate law enforcement agencies and statutory bodies. CJP secretary Teesta Setalvad says, “Our vision and mission is to create a committed band of peace volunteers (Peace Premis) on the ground, trained to spot stages that build up to targeted violence and prevent its spill over into blood on the streets.”
There were significant banners on the venue which displayed a ‘Code of Conduct’ for all; it unequivocally stated:
“At Netizens for Democracy we are committed to providing a safe space and discrimination-free experience for everyone, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, caste, economic strength, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size or race. We do not tolerate harassment of participants, speakers or staff in any form.
"Harassment includes (but is not limited to) offensive verbal comments, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention. These policies apply at every space at the venue and to all participants in every role. Participants who violate these rules may be expelled from the venue at the discretion of the organisers. In case you have a grievance, please email us at netizensfordemocracy@gmail.com."

The slogan of the conclave was loud and clear: “Reclaim the Internet”. The hashtag #NetizensForDemocracy was trending in the first spot all over India during the conclave.
The conclave was jointly organized by Sabrang, All-India Professionals' Congress, Let Mumbai Breathe, QTP and ‘INDASDA Foundation. Thanks to the tremendous efforts put in by Teesta Setalvad, Ruben Mascarenhas, Mathew Anthony and whole group of committed collaborators and volunteers, the run-up to the elections 2019 is definitely going to be a very engaged time in the history of India. All present at the conclave were convinced that change is imminent and that a new chapter of democracy will soon begin for the citizens of our country!
---
*Indian human rights activist. Contact cedricprakash@gmail.com

Comments

TRENDING

Missed call drive for VVPAT verification follows online plea to "pressure" poll panel

By Our Representative
Several political activists have begun a new campaign, asking concerned citizens to give a missed call on 9667655855 to “support the demand that 2019 Loksabha elections must be declared only after verification of 50% electronic voting machines (EVMs) with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) receipts.” The effort, supported by civil society networks across India, is meant to "further pressure" India's election machinery to ensure that the poll outcome becomes more transparent.

Now, top Gujarat "litterateur" close to Modi says: Godse was patriot, so was Gandhi

By Rajiv Shah
A little over a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi criticized BJP candidate from Bhopal Pragya Thakur for calling Nathuram Godse a patriot saying he would never forgive her for the remark, a top Sangh Parivar ideologue, known to close to Modi in Gujarat, has supported her, saying her statement should be seen “within a context.” Thakur won from Bhopal by more than 3.5 lakh votes defeating her nearest rival, veteran Congressman and ex-Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh.

Opposition refuses to legally challenge EVMs amidst plans of "back to ballot" protest

Counterview Desk
Even as opposition to the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) allegedly to rig polls is growing, a group of prominent citizens who have come together to form the EVM Virodhi Rashtriya Jan Andolan has controversially called for a national protest against EVMs on May 30, demanding future elections should be held only on ballot paper.

When a Pak scribe said Modi has 'proved' Jinnah’s two nation theory right...

By Zafar Agha*
It was around nine in the morning on May 24, 2019, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed the Lok Sabha with 300-plus MPs. It was a call from a journalist friend, Muzamal Suhrawardy, from Lahore, Pakistan. I ignored the call. We liberals had a depressing day the previous evening as the opposition to Modi and BJP collapsed. The results belied reports from the ground and even assessments made by colleagues.

It's now official: Akshay Kumar has not been conferred honorary Canadian citizenship

By Our Representative
It is now official. Super-star Akshay Kumar has not been conferred any honorary citizenship by Canadian authorities, as claimed by him ahead of the 2019 elections. In reply to a query by Roshan Shah, who is a Canadian citizen living in Waterloo, Ontario, and belongs to Ahmedabad, the country’s authorities dealing with issues related with immigration, refugees and citizenship in Canada have said that only six persons have so far been granted honorary citizenship.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

If EC's credibility is under question, shouldn't one "assume" EVMs might be tampered?

Counterview Desk
Gauhar Raza, scientist, documentary film maker and poet; senior human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi of the Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD); military veteran Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury (retd); and Sucheta De and Sandeep Saurav of the All India Students' Association (AISA), have asked “individuals, organisations and people's movements” to send their endorsement to an appeal they have prepared on Electronic Voting Machine (EVM).

Govt of India overestimated GDP by 2.5%, must restore reputational damage: Ex-CEA

By Rajiv Shah
Top economist Arvind Subramanian has said that changes brought about by the Government of India in data sources and methodology for estimating the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 “has led to a significant overestimation of growth”. While official estimates place annual average GDP growth between 2011-12 and 2016-17 at about 7 percent, the actual growth may have been 4½ percent, ranging from 3 ½ to 5 ½ percent during the period, he adds.

Common thread of Modi, political Hinduism, nationalism? 'Contest' of ideas isn't over

By Salman Khurshid*
Losing the 2019 election and that too in a somewhat extreme manner has confronted us with unexpected challenges: Our leadership has naturally taken it very hard and to heart but with suggested options that we cannot imagine or contemplate. Hopefully the emotions will settle soon and give us the direction to pick up the pieces and march again.

Will minorities in India be 2nd class citizens? Wake up call: Be a 'communicating' Church

By Fr Cedric Prakash sj*
India today is at a defining moment of her history. There is so much that has taken place in the past five years (and particularly in the last ten days)- that several citizens of the country are genuinely concerned about the future of the country! Will democracy survive? Will key elements of the Constitution be changed?