NEW DELHI: Political uprisings have been rampant in the country in recent years — from ‘Justice for Rohith’ movement in Hyderabad to the more recent farmers’ revolt. These protests that witnessed mass participation from across the world have brought together people separated by region and language via the Internet.
Internet activism can be summed up as an action as simple as changing one’s profile picture to a rainbow flag on social media accounts —Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp. Though Internet has the potential to lower the bar for what constitutes ‘activism’, one cannot discredit its power to bring meaningful change.
According to Gurmehar Kaur, an activist trolled for participating in a peace campaign following a violent agitation in Delhi University, Internet activism makes a wider impact than other forms of protests. Kaur, who was also associated with #MeToo and ‘Not in My Name’ campaign, says, “Internet activism is the latest thing. One can garner huge support online as its reach is beyond the nation.”
The issue of Net neutrality in India gathered attention after Airtel announced in December 2014 of additional charges for making voice calls (VoIP) from its network using WhatsApp, Skype, etc. Soon after the announcement, there were protests on Facebook, attacks on Twitter etc. After almost two years, these efforts have proved fruitful.
Professor Pradip Dutta, Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, JNU, argues, “Internet activism is a good phenomenon. It makes citizens aware of the problems that are plaguing society. My only apprehension about the growing culture of online protests is that people are now starting to feel comfortable by voicing concerns online alone. Imagine if Kailash Satyarthi had just protested online, the ‘Bachpan Bachao Andolan’ would not have been what it is today.”
Delhi-based social media strategist Ankita M feels online activism has its limitations. “If you take the latest example of the farmers’ protest in Maharashtra, it had a huge impact on social media but it didn’t start online.
“As a matter of fact, online protest is unfortunately limited to those with access to Internet — mostly the urban youth. But as Internet is flexing its wings, hopefully it would be the next big thing,” Ankita says.
Taking the net by storm
MeToo: Social media protest to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment
Net neutrality: Started against discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content
Not in My Name: Started online against incidents of lynching of people of a particular community