KOCHI: In 2014, writer-filmmaker Ranjith likened some of the discussions on social media to “toilet literature”. Two years later, a hashtag – #justiceforjisha, a social media campaign launched by a group of students at the Government Law College in Ernakulam – revitalised a police probe into the rape and murder of Jisha, a 30-year-old Dalit law student. The jury is still out on what and how social media contributes to our times – are these platforms shaping a constructive social and political discourse? Or are they doubling as hyper-charged forums where perceptions are manufactured from an uninformed opinion of the anonymous?
The answer could be somewhere in the middle. As society and social media continue to reflect and influence each other, the challenge will be in making sense of this interesting discourse that emerges; and in preserving and building on the original promise of social networks – space for unfettered, independent speech.
“Social media has created a space for itself in society which no one can neglect,” said social media expert V K Adarsh.
“There are a lot of examples in front of us. For instance, the transition of news from print to radio to television happened over a period of time. It was a slow process. There, the information is passed on to a reader/listener/viewer after strict monitoring. But, in social media, there are no such restrictions or ‘editing suppression’ which allows one to express his thoughts/views freely.”
From actor abduction to Kasaba misogyny row, social media played a crucial role by becoming a platform for heated discussions. The latest addition to the ‘social media impact’ are the controversies surrounding V T Balram’s remarks about late AKG, the iconic Communist leader. “There are certain politicians/personalities who are ready to take the calculated risk. knowing their remarks will spark a controversy. They are ready to undertake that risk for the advantage that they will get in the long term. These persons can counter the attacks. They are sure the majority will show leniency if they can argue with the support of facts,” he said.
However, he did not deny the right to expression is misused by a section. At the time of the Kasaba row, the page of Women in Cinema Collective was literally under a cyber attack, drastically reducing its rating.
Political analysts pointed out it is a fact even the judiciary is considering the social media as a platform reflecting public sentiments. “In Kerala’s context, we cannot count the Facebook community’s take on the opinion of the majority. Only 30 per cent of the total population, who are below the age group of 40, are active users. During the last Assembly poll, a candidate like M M Mani, who was not active in social media, won the elections,” according to political analyst Fakruddin Ali.
He, however, said the situation will change and Kerala too is expected to see paid campaigns with the help of agencies in the coming elections. “Forced truth is the factor which leads politics. Emotionality is the element with which leaders always taste success. Politicians are very much aware of it and social media is their major platform,” added Ali.
CPM leader and former MP P Rajeev said the information overdose sometimes will mislead people. “We do not get an idea whether the news/source is genuine or not. So better think before you see and share,” he said.
The latest instance of social media intervention bringing an issue to public consciousness is the support flowing in for Parassala native Sreejith. The 30-year-old has been staging a peaceful protest - including frequent hunger strikes - in front of the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram for the past 766 days seeking a CBI inquiry into the death of his younger brother Sreejeev who died in police custody. Ever since a video detailing Sreejith’s plight went viral, #JusticeforSreejith and #SupportSreejith have been trending online. People have been trickling in to meet him, and the political class has suddenly woken
up to his fight for justice.