Congrats! You’re among the top one per cent most-viewed profiles…

In the good old days, the précis writing chapter from the Wren & Martin grammar manual was a practical guide to sending telegrams. Every additional word meant extra payment. Being concise and to the point was a skill practised at post office counters! The social media revolution, preceded by SMS lingo, may have attracted millions to a daily, if not hourly exercise of churning out tweets. But what about the obvious disregard for syntax or spelling. Brevity isn’t always the catalyst. Expressions like ‘Ma’ for ‘Me’, ‘Gimme’ for ‘Give Me’, ‘Lemme’ for ‘Let Me’ or ‘Wassup’ for ‘What’s up’, prove that it has nothing to do with sticking to the 140 character limit, but just a casual style of communication. Don’t be surprised if they even find a place in the real dictionary some day! (They already exist in mobile phone’s SMS word prediction)

Fact: The social media provides a fillip to prolific and incessant communication. Side effect: ‘Linguicide’ — a severe toll on the language.

While the social media may make a bonfire of grammar and spelling, it’s the true spirit of expression that I’m more concerned about. External threats to free speech — including the latest action on Facebook posts on the P.J. Kurien case in Kerala, through Section 66-A of the IT Act, are openly and vehemently resisted (especially if the victims are in Delhi or Mumbai). What about speaking your mind even if it is not in consonance with the public mood? Can you be politically incorrect on the social media without standing the risk of being hounded by groups and trolls on the same platform? Praise a public figure and you get a ‘tweet-ful’. Criticise an organisation and you invite flak. Spring to someone’s defence and you get targeted. A Tamil actor recently burnt his fingers by voicing a personal opinion that questioned the conduct of an association he belongs to. “Thou shall not speak out of turn?” “Thou shall not let an outfit down?” If your view is against popular sentiment, “Thou shall keep it bottled up inside?” Like William Cowper sighed in The Solitude Of Alexander Selkirk: “Oh Solitude, where are the charms that sages have seen in thy face?”, I’m tempted to ask: “Oh social media, where is the liberty that users have seen in your interface?” Is there more intolerance within the social media than there exists outside?

Fact: Tweet and post as you please. Side effect: Face the music, thereafter!

When celebrities slowly trooped into the social media, there were claims that it would break the barrier between them and their fans. True. The access that the common fans have to their favourite stars is unimaginable. While there are verified accounts to take care of fake profiles, there is no filter to detect ghost-written tweets or posts! Barack Obama’s Twitter account carries his initials ‘BO’ for his own tweets. I salute such honesty, and it’s a practice our celebrities back home may want to replicate. Has deification and adulation gone down as a result of access on this platform? No! How often have we all seen fans begging celebrities for a retweet! “A retweet will really make my day!” I find this a little out of place. I have a dream — users will be judged not by the number of their followers, but by the content of their tweets!

Fact: Celebrity-fan divide bridged. Side effect: Hero worship touches a new high. Or low!

I remember the Papal visit to Chennai decades ago. My father managed to get a VIP pass to catch a glimpse of the Pope. It was only when he reached the venue did he realise there were thousands of such VIP pass holders! In much the same way, Linkedin has been sending mails that resemble certificates to users congratulating them for figuring among the top one per cent of the most-viewed profiles in 2012. A friend did the math. One per cent out of 200 million is two million! Hardly a distinction!

Fact: Feel-good information. Side effect: Conditions apply!