In this age of cyber-activism, the power of social media must be harnessed into a lifestyle, says NEETI SARKAR

Today is the day display pictures on Facebook will be of the tricolor, tweets would be either about how great a country India is or how much more we need to progress and status messages will reek of patriotism.

It wasn’t very long ago when we needed to read the newspaper or watch the news on television to know if there was a cyclone approaching or to be informed about the passing of a minister. Now that we spend most of our time on Facebook, Twitter and other social media portals, these are now the most popular platforms to give and receive news, vent one’s frustrations, agree or disagree with what’s happening around the world, buy and sell everything from pets to gizmos, market businesses and flag off campaigns. And today being Republic Day, we can expect activism to reach its zenith on these forums but for how long is the real question.

Says Rohini Rajasekaran, a city-based psychotherapist: “I think we've become more sensation-driven and less sensitive than before. Facebook and Twitter activism are vents for our quixotism so I really believe that any sort of activism today on these forums doesn’t really translate into anything real and this so called activism is bound to be forgotten until the next big thing shows up in one’s newsfeed.”

Commending the potential of activism expressed on these sites, J.P. Sundararajan, Director, ASM, a worldwide non-profit organization, also pontificates: “Facebook and Twitter are great tools to share one’s opinion. However, the concise nature that it demands, forces people to throw out strongly worded or clichéd statements that hardly leave room for further discussion. Important days like our Republic Day or Independence Day are great reminders of our past but in our annual cyber-activism, I hope we can leave room for deeper reflections on what this might mean for us as individuals, as Indians, and more importantly, as human beings. The power of social media can truly be harnessed only when we can step out of the shadows of our virtual reality and translate the 140 characters into a lifestyle.”

Concurring with this belief is media producer and entrepreneur Sudhir Selvaraj who opines: “Unfortunately, ‘activism’, for the large part, is constrained to one’s laptop or smart phone. While social media have been revolutionary in uniting and mobilising people for social action, the Arab Spring being the perfect example, it has also led to people being content with contributing through a status update or a tweet. Yes, it is important to show our support but as a society if we really want change we must go beyond the ‘likes’ and retweets, and convert these into something more tangible.”

He adds: “As a young nation, we have a phenomenal percentage of our population active on social media. This forum has tremendous potential in a country like India to connect individuals from across the country. Social media is a great starting point but we should not let our ‘activism’ stop there.”

Publicist Samarpita Samaddar, whose recent campaign ‘Skirt the Issue’, following the brutal gang rape of the 23-year-old Delhi girl, called all men to come out and take a stand against the violence against women by wearing skirts to show people the misconception that what a woman wears is the cause for sexual violence against her, grabbed eyeballs from across the globe, says: “Facebook played a huge role in the promotion and success of our campaign. Having said that, one must realise not everything posted online goes viral. It all boils down to the message of the campaign which should have not just been something close to one’s heart but should aim at achieving something. We started our campaign online, took it offline and now brought it back online and we’re overwhelmed by the stupendous support we’re receiving from people we don’t even know across the globe. We started a dialogue that continues even today, so much so Chennai followed suit and so will Kolkata and Mumbai shortly. Posting comment after comment on Facebook isn’t activism. Figuratively speaking, one is active on the portal. But we need to push it beyond a status or a note. So also on Republic Day, we need to keep the activism alive.”

American statesman Adlai Stevenson couldn’t have put it better when he said: “Patriotism... is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”