Twitter, Facebook: A stethoscope to feel the pulse of the nation

If the ghastly gang rape and murder of the brave young woman in Delhi would go down as one of the worst crimes in India in 2012, I would have no hesitation in nominating the social media as the ‘champion of the masses’. Had the crime been perpetrated before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, would we have witnessed the justifiable national outrage of this magnitude?

Despite its flaws and scope for misuse, which certain sections are ever-so hungry to exploit, this medium has sent shivers down, what critics may call, the ‘untraceable’ spines of some of the powers that be, and infused that much-needed accountability.

Almost on cue, the mainstream media has been only too eager to partner the social media, as a double-barrel gun firing all the right salvos at the authorities, often frozen in their ‘theek hai’ templates of lackadaisicality.

Be it signing online petitions for tougher laws and harsher punishment, or gathering at public places for protests, or even triggering debates on the way forward, this platform has served a ‘call to action’ purpose.

So intense has the focus been that even the casual ‘theek hai’ query of the Prime Minister to the camera crew at the end of what was labelled as an ‘unemotional, lacklustre’ address to the nation, was picked up and criticised well before the mainstream media could take it up. To Dr. Singh’s bad luck, ‘theek hai’ was a hashtag on the issue before the faux pas. Facing the heat of this new form of scrutiny, many political bigwigs such as West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee are turning to professional agencies to monitor media reports, which I presume, would include the social media.

To the mango men and women of India, Twitter and Facebook constitute the new oxygen of expression and dissent. To the political class, it is an easily available stethoscope to feel the pulse of the nation.

You can beat up protestors who are merely asking you to do your job, you can arrest activists (on that note, the draconian Section 66-A of the IT Act could have been used against the Mayans for causing “inconvenience”, “annoyance” and disseminating information of a “menacing character”!), you can break cameras but you cannot break the spirit of the average citizen with a Twitter account. Or escape public anger and logical demands. A predicament that probably forced many big shots to almost feign remorse and shock or demonstrate sensitivity. Or even strengthen the common man’s resolve to do what it takes to make our country safe for women. What else would explain a former top constitutional functionary who had pardoned rapists suddenly singing a different tune? To what else would you attribute the hard-hitting tweets and retweets over chemical castration or whether the identity of the victim should now be revealed despite a clear prohibition in the Indian Penal Code? What else would spark suggestions by Union Ministers on naming the proposed new anti-rape law after the victim? What else would result in an avalanche of ideas from the masses to the Justice Verma Commission? What else would ignite a pre-New Year campaign against a Honey Singh show? Or start arguments about how big stars may be guilty of dishing out sexist lyrics or regressive stereotypes?

For the mood of the nation, turn to Twitter and Facebook. For everything else, there are newspapers and TV channels.

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