His Twitter profile — @swamy39 — claims: “I give as good as I get.” No wonder, given his penchant for taking on the establishment at every given opportunity, Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy is one of the few political leaders in the country with a phenomenal following on the social networking website: 102,222, as on October 26.
Swamy’s legions of followers go by the name of ‘PTs’ or ‘patriotic tweeters’ and the first family of the Congress and Union minister P Chidambaram, besides journalists belonging to a section of the electronic media, usually find themselves at the receiving end of their combined ire. Interestingly, PTs have branded their opponents as CRTs or ‘Congi Reptile Tweeples.’
And, the maverick politician himself refers to Congress president Sonia Gandhi as ‘Tadakka’ in his tweets. Interestingly, there is a story behind how she ended up with the dubious nickname.
This reporter tweeted to Swamy in August, saying: “As a woman, I feel disturbed by the language used against another woman.” Pat came the reply: “Read what Rama said about killing Tadakka, a woman.”
Well, ‘Tadakka’ was a demoness killed by Rama on the orders of Sage Vishwamitra. By killing her, Rama said he was following his father’s advice to obey the sage. To his credit, he kept putting it off until the end when he was left with no option, but he did not abuse her.
To the response, Swamy tweeted back: “Define abuse then after reading Valmiki and not Tulsidas.” Probably irked by the exchange, he also soon tweeted that he would, henceforth, refer to the Congress president as ‘Tadakka’. And PTs were soon tweeting their support to him.
This shows that while, on the one hand, the microblogging site is soaring in popularity in the country as a platform for people to express their opinion, growing public disillusionment on corruption and failing political leaderships have led to a sharp polarisation of tweeters, on the other. In Chennai, the negative trend started when the 2G scam broke out and the tweets became increasingly strident and ugly on the Sri Lankan Tamils and fishermen issues. And celebrities, who were perceived as soft targets, became the focus of online attacks.
The issue has now again come into focus, with the arrest of two persons in connection with the alleged harassment of singer Chinmayi Sripad on Twitter. According to a close relative, the singer became the target of concerted attack by a group because she was perceived to be a DMK sympathiser.
Says T Padmasini (62), mother of the singer, “It was after the 2G scam. Chinmayi got awards for her song in Udhayanidhi Stalin’s film. She was also present at Vairamuthu’s book release function. All this led to the impression that she was close to the DMK.”
Also occupying the centre-stage at the time was the Sri Lankan Tamils issue and fishermen plight and the tweets to the singer began to get more and more abusive. “They were in Tamil and derided our community in the filthiest terms,” she said.
Things took an ugly turn, when Chinmayi objected to hash tags like killingfields being posted with her Twitter handle. “She asked the tweeters to approach the authorities concerned as they were international issues and she was helpless.”
Despite several entreaties, there was no let-up and, instead, the group posted the singer’s cell-phone number on the site and she was flooded with threat calls. “We were also told that they will come to harm us during our proposed trip to Coimbatore,” Padmasini said.
The mother-daughter duo then rushed to the police. Despite the harrowing experience, Padmasini is all praise for the website. “It is like a grand feast, where a single piece of stone in a fistful of rice spoils the whole food,” she says.
Concurs Kirubashanker (39), who runs a social media consultancy in the city, “It is a great platform for people to express their opinion and connect to people.”
No wonder that anti-corruption activists like Kiran Bedi (@thekiranbedi) have a large following. Former Uttar Pradesh DGP Prakash Singh (@singh_prakash), who fought a momentous case in the Supreme Court on police reforms, uses the site to drum up support for the purpose. Political commentators like S Gurumurthy (@sgurumurthy) are flooded with queries about important issues.
Claiming that Chennai was active among the cities in India on Twitter use, Kirubashanker said some people took sadistic pleasure in harassing others. “It is a ploy to seek attention and the best way to respond is to ignore them,” he said.
Interestingly, a group called ‘twittermeetup’ organises meetings in the city, where tweeters sharing a passion for social media meet.
Abuse on Twitter is punishable under Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act and Section 4 of Prevention of Women Harassment Act, where women are involved, warn police.