As we battle COVID-19 in the real world, the bigger evil that’s mutating and gaining virality is happening in the virtual world, leading to a lot of *strain*. Social media platforms are a great way to communicate given the vast reach they enjoy across boundaries and remain unaffected by lockdown.
But, we must maintain some borders that should be honoured. With each passing day, we are winning small battles against COVID-19 in the hope of winning the big war someday. While the narrative may differ (and why not) and lean towards an individual’s opinion or depiction through his/her messaging, they must be decent and parliamentary in every sense; however tempting it may be to overstep.
Social media platforms and forums often showcase a funny demeanour in the form of memes, trolls and caricatures. It’s all in the hope of satiating one’s creativity, liberation of pent-up feelings, one-upmanship and intellectual superiority. While it brings a smile across some faces it garners a smirk from the others at the distasteful expressions.
All these, mind you, are under the guise of sounding well-read, entitled and privileged. In some cases, the participants also play the victimized have not card with aplomb to gain sympathy and followers subsequently.
As we move on from the preamble set above, the case that’s in the crosshairs today is a guileful meme that has morphed the country’s leadership in a misrepresentation of a particular community.
Across the world, traditional media and in recent years, new media enjoy freedom of speech and are said to be unhindered in their messaging. In a democracy, sections of supportive media outlets and sympathizers of both the ruling disposition and the opposition exchange sharply worded and slanted remarks.
Well, so long as it’s politically correct and parliamentary in nature, it’s acceptable to put forward one’s opinion in the public domain for general consumption. What should not set the narrative are fake news and distasteful memes that are tweeted, posted and shared with like-minded individuals and groups.
Showing Punjabis in poor light has been the norm with Sardar jokes making unwanted headlines and guffaws over the years. But, we can’t forever test their resilience when we keep speaking of India inclusive but make them the butt of ill-timed jokes. This particular morphing shows women in poor light too.
Moreover, this morphing attempt grossly insults and demerits the constitutionally sanctified authority of the highest office and its elected representatives. No less than the prime minister, the home minister, a chief minister, a senior party spokesperson and an award winning actor have been labelled in poor taste.
Such morphing attempts endorse the intolerance of the current generation and its influence on pop culture to pass off as being secularist, centrist and/or libertarian. Being conservative isn’t old-fashioned or regressive. We’re hurtling towards a polarised world which is why sentiments and emotions are always high-strung and vulnerable to face the music.
We Indians are very forward thinking, which is why we forward anything that comes our way by reflex action. While one can’t regulate this human instinct neither can someone completely inhibit the *coming out* of such thoughts, memes and trolls.
We are a democracy, you see. The pandemic has been a surprise test for many governments globally as no one’s faced such a wrath before in the immediate past decades, unlike heavy rains and cyclones.
The government is doing its best ferrying oxygen cylinders across states and organizing mass vaccination drives while enhancing the patient-bed ratio. The least it would expect its citizens is to show support and not politicize it with off-color remarks and caricatures.
Reprimanding this isn’t authoritarianism, it’s just that certain institutions require the public office to be respected and accorded a certain amount of courtesy.
While democracy can’t reprimand a thought that comes in somebody’s mind, it can always set a precedent in quelling such thoughts from being exposed to both the public’s glee and outcry. We have shining examples of Jyllands Posten and Charlie Hebdo which have prominent recall value among the numerous others for their take on the Prophet.
Regulating what’s circulated on social media as individual contributions (morphing) and cornering retweets as endorsements isn’t the long-term solution at hand. In a democracy, you have the freedom to react but that must not be construed as the green signal to go overboard and be a repeat offender bypassing the algorithm. Let’s not truly become a third-rate country and thwart our genuine endeavour to emerge out of the shadows of being a third world nation.
About the Author
Nagesh grew up in Kolkata and was drawn into all things intellectual and worldly. Being a commerce graduate, he has a varied professional experience drawn from banking, sports marketing, taxation, business development and advertising over the years across cities. He’s also an avid quizzer, film buff and a news junkie to boot.
Image by Jan Helebrant from Pixabay