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Political use of social media, where 'likes' and 'reach' decide authenticity of an item

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*

Social media can surely act as a liberating factor for all those who haven’t been able to avail the opportunity by caste supremacists in India in the name of merit. But it is also a fact that the same brahmanical elite control social media India. A recent report, which highlights how Facebook has been politically compromised in India, explosive in its own way, however, says nothing new. It was known to many of us from the very beginning.
If Facebook is under attack for backing a particular kind of hate politics, as a frequent user of Twitter, I have found how it uses 'filers' everywhere. These filters are used very cleverly in such a way that that you elicit most likes, reaching the largest audience: All of it is decided allegedly using a particular of 'technology'.
Facebook gives you space and at the same time controls our access and reach, but I have found Twitter more notorious on this. It has allowed paid army of trolls to abuse, intimidate and resort to character assassination of those who differ with the powers-that-be. Twitter actually 'decides' what should be the 'prime time' TV discussions in the evening. Political parties and business groups use their 'troll armies' to 'trend' an issue so that it gets into 'news' channels. 
The problem in today's world is that the 'reach' and the 'likes' decide whether an item is 'authentic' or ‘worthwhile’. The fight today is not to about 'correctness' or 'authenticity' or ‘credibility’ of particular news but who is able to get away with bigger likes and shares. It is well now how it is possible to elicit more likes and shares without even reading posts.
With the advent of social media, many have got lucrative jobs meant to keep political masters happy. False narratives are sought to be built up and pushed especially through WhatsApp. Many youngsters and even veterans use these narratives as 'knowledge'. Reading habit has been on decline for quite some time now. But thanks to social media, things have gone worse. WhatsApp forwards decide whether a person is knowledgeable.
If this is true with regard to large sections of people, they are also sought be influenced by trolls, who just need is their political master’s tweet to go ahead with his or her propaganda. There is no discussion on the merit of a tweet. What is instead discussed is, how many have retweeted or endorsed or liked particular tweets. And it isn’t just trolls. TV channels and online portals use tweets for to create public opinion.
Often I have been advised to write smaller pieces or one-liners in order to get 'large' number of likes or comments. But I have wondered: Can you really express yourself in a one-liner, and will that ever raise a serious discussion? It’s fine with those playing games around these one line ‘jumlas’. But if you wish to engage in fruitful discussions, discourses, and not ‘jumlas’, are needed.
I have found meaningful and serious people become victims of social media ‘jumlas’. The aim of is not to hold constructive discussion, which one may want to trigger, but to bombard you with disinformation in order to use these platforms as an easier tool to spread political propaganda. A propagandist government wouldn’t want people to learn or gain knowledge through these platforms.
What is happening in India is not to repair the 'imperfect' democracy, but to empower the already powerful, authoritarian forces
No doubt, social media could have been a liberating force. But I realized, following the Arab Spring, that the solution that it provides is worse than the problem. A country’s fight against 'authoritarianism' is sought to be turned into anarchy and chaos. India has been a working democracy. None can say that we have been perfect, but what is happening in India is not to repair the 'imperfect' democracy, but to empower the already powerful, authoritarian forces. 
Indeed, social media has become a tool to control with political propaganda. Political dissent and diverse views are sought to be targeted and filtered. While one gets the feeling of being democratic and express voices, the fact is, it’s cleverly reduced to nothingness. 
Moreover, those abusing or threatening someone -- especially one opposing a ruling political viewpoint -- on social media are 'protected' as 'freedom of expression'. This is true not just about social media but also about the mainstream media, which have many a 'legend' that openly threaten and intimidate political opponents.
Freedom of expression is not meant for all but those who can abuse the opponent. Can you imagine any such freedom under international laws, which our 'media' claims to use to vilify the opposition and dissenting voices? In the United States, Twitter censored President Donald Trump. Social media in Europe and America is careful and wouldn’t dare allow hatred. There they can’t imagine failing to doing business with 'ease' if they target the ruling party.
Social media in our societies have important role to play and we can use them in a much better way, which can be constructive, but it would be too much to expecting from it to work for our 'welfare' while ignoring its own business interests. There is a need to build communities and alliances, share ideas and thoughts, and even when though the reach of such an exercise will be limited.
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*Human rights defender

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