The Ugly side to Social Media

As speculation looms over Sunanda Pushkar’s death, it seems that the Twitter incident was the last trigger to a tragic chain of events. City Express looks at out how social media has made people, and public figures in particular, more susceptible

Published: 20th January 2014 08:49 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th January 2014 08:50 AM   |  A+A-


Spats on social media aren’t uncommon and have often snowballed into nasty conversations; though in the case of Sunanda Pushkar and Shashi Tharoor, the ending was rather extreme.

What started as a simple Twitter fiasco for Shashi Tharoor soon turned into a nightmare by Friday night with wife Sunanda passing away. Taking to social networking, Sunanda had posted tweets through Tharoor’s account last Wednesday that indicated a more personal relationship between Tharoor and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar. The incident became national news when newspapers on Friday morning picked it up.

While it is unclear as to what has lead to Sunanda’s death, the fact that the outburst on the social networking site was perhaps the last trigger to the chain events cannot be denied. And Sunanda’s Twitter move wasn’t the first time a public figure used a social medium to make a point.

Though Indian public figures have been slow on the uptake, celebrities in Hollywood and the international music industry have washed many a dirty linen in such a manner. And with the urge to over share that is common to such virtual forums, sometimes things can get very messy.

Agreeing, undergraduate student Haritha Adivi says, “It’s quite sad what happened. People need to understand that when you share something in such spaces, they become a platform for gossip for others. Dealing with that can be quite traumatic.”

While personal confrontations may have a slight humane side to it, typing out hurtful words on an inanimate object shields one from the instant reaction of the other person/people. Which could mean that one may not realise when they’re crossing the line.

“If Shashi Tharoor was indeed having an extra marital affair, maybe he deserved to be exposed on a public platform, considering he is a public figure and a politician. But it’s still quite a harsh move, and doing something like that doesn’t  necessarily leave the initiator happier or feeling vindicated. The aftermath of such an action must be thought through before taking such a step,” says Ankitha V Menon, a software employee.

Hriday Ranjan, a largely followed blogger from the city, puts things in a slightly different perspective. As someone who spends the better part of his time using social media to share his take on things, he feels that the virtual world tends to give one a false sense of community.

“Shashi Tharoor was one of the first Indian netas to use social media and was quite suave on it as well. He has more than two million followers on Twitter, and that word ‘followers’ itself lends a peculiar notion of belonging. Being a public figure itself is one thing, but when you put yourself out there in the virtual world, you are put on a pedestal and you are bound to develop a false sense of circle,” he points out, which could also lend a false sense of security and hence he feeling that you can post whatever you like on such platforms.

“In case of Sunanda, my understanding was that she was also hankered post the tweets she put up. And so this playing to the galleries doesn’t also always work out well,” he adds.

The bottom line, psychologist Dr Diana Monteiro feels, is that it isn’t so much as right or wrong to use such platforms for voicing such opinions, but understanding that there are consequences and knowing how to deal with them.

“Social media has created a public life for us and we don’t even realise it, and similarly you don’t even realise the consequences. You can’t imagine how one would react or how information will filter and who finds out what. So you need to be ready to cope with whatever comes of it.”

With public opinion playing an important role in one’s psyche -- “we tend to draw self esteem from the number of likes on a wall post,” the doctor gives as an example -- for people in public eye, knowing this consequences and being prepared with a coping mechanism becomes even more important. “They are under even more scrutiny, and people will take the liberty to comment. As I understand, Pushkar was also heckled for her tweets. The smarter thing to do is to not choose such a course of action when going through an actively difficult time. As you are still trying to deal with it yourself, it may make things worse when other people are also forcing their opinions on you.”



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