Twitter Quitter: Didn't Sonu Nigam know what he signed up for?

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Isn't there a kind of social contract when one signs up on Twitter wherein they realise how indecorous a platform it is liable to be? Does it make sense to quit social media as a form of protest against unfair and irrational behaviour, as Sonu Nigam seems to have done?

Sonu Nigam quits the boxing ring — sorry — Twitter.

Once upon a time, when social media wasn't a sweeping all-in-one replacement for news, sources, and press conferences, controversy surrounding celebrities often came from slips of tongue in interviews or press briefings.

In our current blessed times, however, celebrities are no longer out of reach like they once were, shielded behind the carefully-constructed façade of security and out of reach of the general public, oh no. That’s right. Welcome to the age where society is democratised; where anybody with Internet access and a smartphone can address their favourite celebrity. All it takes is a tweet or a Facebook/Instagram comment, with a hashtag and a handle thrown in for added effect.

Twitter has also made it frighteningly easy to ‘report’ and write articles. All it takes is for you to follow celebrities and, in particular, controversy’s favourite children, scour your feed for tweets that will touch the wrong nerves, curate a couple of responses from the general public to said tweets, and voila, you have a new story.

In an age where Twitter is everybody’s spokesperson and conscience keeper, you’d expect celebrities to know what they are signing up for, yes? This would include undesirable abuse, insults, and trolling, besides the adulation and emoji overflows. You open yourself up to the public on social media, and the public will respond. Because now, they can. You can’t handle that, well, you leave. Apparently. At least that’s what nostalgia-inducing, almost-former-Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam just did. He bid adieu to his “close to 7 million” Twitter followers (which became 6.5 million as his final tweet-rant progressed) on May 24. The 15th tweet in his rant read, “I quit Twitter today in defiance of this One Sided Sham. Every Logical Sensible Patriot and Humanist should”.

It seems from Nigam’s rant that this “One Sided Sham” refers to another almost-former-Bollywood singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya’s Twitter account being suspended after he tweeted an offensive remark at JNU student activist and fellow rabble-rouser on Twitter Shehla Rashid. Nigam argued that Rashid’s account should've been suspended as well.

Of course, this isn’t the first of Nigam’s frustrations with the micro-blogging platform. In April, he posted a series of tweets complaining about how the Azaan (the Muslim call for prayer) disturbs his sleep early in the morning.

 

A celebrity tweeting about religion? You got it, Twitter exploded with outrage and support. What followed was a series of events that probably got Nigam and his publicist rubbing their hands in glee over his being in the public eye again; including Nigam shaving his head after a cleric issued a fatwa rewarding anybody who did so, and then going on to stake claim to the reward himself. Of course, Twitter was heavily involved, with Nigam telling the world of his special haircut on the platform.

 

Given how Twitter was at the centre of Nigam’s comeback to the media spotlight, it’s odd that he chose to quit the platform over how “One Sided” it has become; that too seemingly triggered by Bhattacharya’s account being suspended. Bhattacharya has a long list of allegations against him, pertaining to supposedly offensive and derogatory content in his tweets, and was even briefly arrested in this regard. Citing Bhattacharya’s tweet and outraging on its behalf, Nigam seems to justify it — this in itself is hypocritical; given how Nigam laments the venom and anger on the platform, and yet scrambles to defend Bhattacharya’s tweet, which had to be deleted and led to the account’s suspension.

In another of his farewell tweets, Nigam says: “It only goes to prove that most humans, cannot digest power when it comes to them unchecked. They need Reins to hold them back [sic]”.

Welcome to the jungle

If celebrities join a platform to connect to their audience directly, they’d do well to understand that communication is a two-way street on social media. You get as you give, and controversial statements are bound to get you responses, as Nigam discovered with his tweet on the Azaan. The problem here isn't unchecked power being afforded to the masses. It is a celebrity like Nigam finding himself on an equal footing with the masses on Twitter, in terms of freedom of speech — albeit with many more followers and the coveted blue tick next to his name. And going by his tweet, it seems like he wishes they were reined in. Well, that doesn't look like it’s happening, so bye-bye Twitter it was, for Nigam.

 

But this isn't the first instance of celebrities finding themselves all at sea on social media. Celebrities like Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and others have all at some point thrown in their towels at their social media presence; although some returned. Closer home, Bollywood movie idea-feeder Chetan Bhagat too has decried Twitter’s descent into a playground for cyber-bullies and trolls. He even went on to say that Twitter would be shut down in five years as its negativity was making people move to other platforms. Of course, he stopped short of quitting the platform himself; he said he uses it for the publicity.

Smart move, that. It’s a sure shot way of grabbing eyeballs, and what better example than yesteryear celebrities who've harnessed it to remain in the public eye and memory with every fresh tweet? To try and make a statement by quitting the platform may not serve any purpose because it’s just giving the trolls and the abusers another shot in the arm, providing them with a sense of accomplishment to be worn as a badge of honour. And that will only lead to more trolling, abusing, and slander.

The cacophony will continue. You can stay on and brave it, or quit.

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