TO BE a change agent, you don’t need to call people names

We’ve all heard school teachers telling their students that using foul language is a symptom of poor vocabulary. It jolly well is. In just the same way, getting abusive on the social media platform betrays a complete poverty of ideas. There is no dearth of people in India who may be angry, disappointed and let down by our politicians. It’s not just Team Anna. Not all of them need to show up at demonstrations or venues of fasts. It doesn’t mean they feel less strongly about corruption or other issues or are reluctant to champion a cause. Because there are methods. And there are methods. And there is the social media. A tweet or a wall post can be as effective as holding a placard outside someone’s home or office or along a route. But just how prudently is this done?

I’ve come across tweets against political bigwigs that are downright intimidating and clearly constitute offences under the Indian Penal Code and the Information Technology Act. Sample some. “I will worship the soil on which the corpse of xxx is found.” Or, “I just can’t wait to put raw rice grains into the mouth of xxx.” (Reference to a cremation ritual) Then there’s this one: “xxx should be roasted alive.” And “The decapitated torso of xxx will be found on a street corner.” There are more direct threats: “xxx will be shot soon.” At one level, this could be the handiwork of loose cannons rather than guided missiles. I’m not sure how many recipients of these threats read them or take them seriously. A poet in Chennai recently filed a criminal complaint after someone on Twitter threatened to throw acid on her face. While few may actually intend carrying out their threats, the trend is yet another reflection of the violent society we live in. If you analyse the profiles of these individuals (assuming the information revealed is correct) and their language proficiency, you will find that many of them are well-educated and well-placed! Their cowboy tactics denigrate the medium and make it seem like an anti-social media section.

If you want to take on the powers that be, there are courts, elections, space in the mainstream media and certainly better and civilised ways of using the social media. A few days ago, I put up a status on Facebook, looking for a case study of women drivers stalked and harassed by ‘roadside Romeos’ after the ban on sun control film on cars. Not only did I get more than sufficient feedback, a healthy debate broke out on that thread and a friend suggested a powerful initiative — ‘Hollaback! Chennai’. Its tagline: “I don’t accept street harassment, I holla back!” says it all. I’ve heard of the global movement but it was good to know that a local chapter existed. The page has useful posts such as “What to do when someone tries to grab you”.

Have you heard of It calls itself “a global web movement to bring people powered politics to decision making everywhere.” The site has had its share of impact and success. Consider what it flaunts on its home page. “In just 3 weeks, over 3 million of us worldwide signed a petition opposing a scandalous bill that would give the US government the right to shut down any website — targeting sites like YouTube, WikiLeaks and even Avaaz! We worked with other organisations such as DemandProgress, and President Obama’s team responded. Avaaz organised a 1 hour meeting with top White House officials to deliver the petition. The White House subsequently condemned the bill and key backers withdrew their support. As of right now, the Internet censorship bill is dead in the water. When we started, everyone told us the bill could not be stopped, now it’s been ditched by both parties — a huge win for Internet freedom and for people power!”

Here are classic cases of technology and the pester power of campaigning put to good use. To be a change agent, you don’t need to call people names. Just Holla back or raise your avaaz!


Will self regulation help?November 9, 2012

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