In his dramatic monologue on ‘The Faultless Painter’, Robert Browning used the expression “less is more”. More recently, one of the most prolific politicians on Twitter, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, seemed provoked enough to tweet that “I never thought I’d say this, but I love having nothing to say on Twitter”. A fortnight ago, the “tweet-a-minute” CM had hinted that twitter was a “lose-lose” situation, referring to his ‘damned if you tweet, damned if you don’t’ predicament. If this is how one of the youngest Chief Ministers, who has tweeted over 5,200 times, feels about the social media, how would one of the oldest former Chief Ministers view the barrage of comments on his foray into Twitter? Be it Karunanidhi or any bigwig, I, for one, welcome the entry of political leaders on the social media. It is a healthy sign. A reality check. Away from sycophancy, to quite the opposite! I just hope they don’t use it as a mere propaganda tool but actually engage with citizens. For many a dramatic dialogue! And will ghost writers please stay away?
When leaders tweet their political views or announcements, they may well dispense with the much-sought-after press conferences. But there could be more inconvenient questions here. A media interaction is usually with about two dozen reporters; face-to-face at that. Twitter engagement is with lakhs of people; each an Editor-In-Chief of his / her own accounts, many with a degree of anonymity, firing the most difficult, often nasty salvos. There can be no excuse for slander but can they take hard-hitting posers, harsh criticism? Or fair comment? Or just the truth? (The last two being exceptions to criminal defamation) Mamata Banerjee is reported to have jailed a man who asked her a tough question. So, can politicians take it? The phrase ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’ is relevant. It’s one thing to sign up on Twitter, but quite another to last. At the time of writing this column, @kalaignar89 has 3,460 followers, eight tweets and follows no one. While some of his party colleagues such as Khushbu Sundar are elated, there are barbs coming in thick and fast. Someone suggests that tweets in Hindi or Sanskrit be sent to his account, others harp on 2G. Going by the number of fake profiles or handles of celebrities, many wonder if this is even the real account of Karunanidhi! It reportedly is.
Forget the bitter rivalry among the political class. Are we, the people, tolerant enough? Do we show enough respect for a different view, political or otherwise? My hunch is that despite the most common ‘Does Not Matter’ statement on Political Views on Facebook profiles, many of us are as political as the parties. In person, we may communicate in measured tones on political issues, if at all. The moment we log on to the Internet, something snaps, and we go berserk. This is probably another factor that makes several politicians avoid the social media! And it’s not only about the ‘hide and tweet’ trend. Go beyond Twitter, and to the comments sections on news websites. Some are moderated, many are not. Some have a provision to report abuse. Those that are not monitored or edited are a virtual free-for-all. Many of the comments are certainly not printable. Or telecast worthy. Can a publication or channel allow on its website such defamatory content that it would never ever imagine going into print in, say, its ‘Letters To The Editor’ columns or as feedback on air? This is another form of social media. And we cannot have double standards.
Now for a dash of hope. I recently came across a page on Facebook of a band — Aarohi. Deriving its name from the ascending note in music, this group reflects a sense of corporate karma. The band formed by lawyer Harishankar Mani, corporate honcho Sudeep Sangameswaran and others, belts out music solely to support orphanages. Charity for a song! Welcome the good guys.