Let Twitter publicise identities of frequently blocked handles

When celebrities are down to earth, they go from being famous to popular. Movie stars reaching out and mingling with their fans has always been welcome. In the entertainment industry, in some measure, you are what you are because of your fans. But how far can fans be allowed to go? And when will the patience of an actor snap? I guess being mobbed is an example. The menace prompted many to ration public appearances or stir out only with bodyguards to keep the odd trouble maker at bay.

Cut to the social media. There are actors and other popular professionals with a massive following on Twitter; from a few lakh to even millions, who regularly interact with their followers on this platform. I am not sure if all of them respond to tweets personally or have cyber-savvy managers to ghost tweet! Whether it is direct or proxy engagement, a channel of communication with the audience is a healthy sign in a democracy. But how does one draw the line between well-meaning interface and downright rudeness or obnoxious behaviour?

Twitter gives the common man — perfect strangers at that, a chance to interact with super achievers. But when some misuse that opportunity, you cannot blame celebrities if they go into a shell or clamp down by initiating legal action or blocking handles of those creating a nuisance; only those who are approved as followers are in the loop.

There are extremes in every sphere. Here, there are followers who plead for a retweet. And there are those trolls and also cynics who nit pick and get on your nerves. Rudyard Kipling would have, in his inimitable style, probably advised some of our public figures on the social media to handle adulation and abuse; and treat both these impostors just the same. Easier said than done? In the last week, some of our most loved and admired celebrities have voiced concerns about the level to which some sections stoop to get attention. Shah Rukh Khan expressed anguish the other day. “Sad. I read judgments, jingoism, religious intolerance on the net and I used to think this platform will change narrow mindedness. No!” In pretty much the same vein, Rajdeep Sardesai laments “Could some ‘friends’ on the social media exercise restraint when commenting on communal violence? Or you want another riot? “The tone of some users is clearly not Karan Johar’s cup of tea. “Most amused at the level of self importance a series of absolute zero achievers have on this platform. I follow them for my amusement.” Some even unfairly refer to and target family members of public figures in bizarre contexts only to be shut off.

I’m not advocating imperviousness to criticism. But clearly, there is a difference between expressing a contrarian view and getting personal, commenting on family members, religion et al. A random analysis of the profiles of those who cross all limits of decency on Twitter will reveal a common thread. Most of them operate with strange pseudonyms. The number of people they follow would be at least a hundred times that of their own followers! And their tweets would run into thousands, some even clocking a few hundred a day; betraying a state of sheer joblessness!

I quite liked the way Siddharth Varadarajan, editor, The Hindu, put it, “blocking loony trolls on twitter as much fun as swatting mosquitoes with my electric racket. I post, they buzz, I zap. 20 today already!” The block-and-tackle antidote to the hide-and-tweet syndrome is effective but I really wish Twitter publicises the identities of those who are blocked by a certain number of users as well as those reported for abusive behaviour and spam. Till that happens, if you don’t want to take the improvised Kipling’s advice, try an old Arabian proverb: “The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.” Or just save screen shots and call your lawyer.


Champion of the massesJanuary 4, 2013

Will self regulation help?November 9, 2012

Block & Tackle?October 26, 2012

The pulse of the peopleJune 8, 2012

Turning complainants into followersSeptember 28, 2012