Writer, teacher and academic blogger. Writes a social media trilogy. Forthcoming books: Myth of the Social Media Politics (Primus Books), Intimate Speakers (Fingerprint).Specializes on celebrity culture, political class, culture studies, business politics and technology.
Social media resurfaces in a complex set of digital sociability that makes it almost difficult to pinpoint in an explicit public sphere analogy. Yet, few factors are important in making sense of public sphere through social media platforms, which configure a connective public in the Indian context.
Public spheres are spaces of discourse, often mediated. Public spheres often allow room for new and excluded discussants and not expected to hinder it by the structural constraints. In the public sphere, issues discussed are often political and civic in nature. Here, ideas beseem judged by their merit, quality and generality and not by the standing of those who speak and those listen the speaker. It offers deliberative, participative, contentious space for all those social groups historically marginalised.
Nevertheless, how far these criteria have fulfilled by web based platforms toss shadow on the apparent political potential of social media on the backdrop of Indian Internet. Since Indian Internet has been in news always for reasons that do not sound pleasing for the digital utopians, most often, now there are few doubts in respect of its liberating potential at various corners.
Importantly, social media deliberations often work as if mediated discourse. The platforms are highly structured in Internet. Search engines such as Google and Yahoo systematically funnel Internet traffics. Few websites and platforms owned by corporate entities, political class, media establishments, selected advocacies and celebrities are attracting large audience.
The traditional form of public spheres in India developed bodily in face-to-face meetings in coffee houses, cafes, town squares, as well as in the media, letters, books, drama, and art are now seemingly different in social media age. Public sphere is not open to all in digital media platforms, since winner-take-it-all pattern reflect Internet behaviour.
Not all Twitter, Facebook, YouTube profiles are popular. Intellectuals are lonely in platforms. One or other way, fifth e-states are shrinking to the exclusion of marginalised. Solo individual profiles and web pages with political purposes have very few follower lists. No one is more interested in reading or viewing political debates, and discussion by socially committed people.
Techno-polis, i.e., the new structure of political power of social media, in fact is taking place in a profound manner. In the days ahead, it is predicted that politics in India will be not in streets, in town squares and in ?maidan? but it will be tweeted, uploaded and blogged and largely conducted in Facebook and YouTube. Since social media, now the public sphere we have experienced in coffee houses, saloons, ?literacies? and public gathering, now resurfaces in our pocket or leather bags that carries our Cell phones or the small gadgets with us.
However, how often do we know that we are deviating from the real issues and moving on to be superfluous and stick on to surface reality? Social media has resulted in a new kind of sociality and activist chemistry in India. The platforms in Internet provide newer avenues for mediation and channeled discourse. Yet, the medium is not new; it is just a mediated sociality.
Social media do not allow room for fresh, previously expelled, discussants, of course, is the reigning reality. In fact, people have largely pulled to an impression that social media configured political sphere lead to include anxieties of previously excluded social categories.
Aseem Trivedi, Ambikesh Mahapatra, Subrata Sengupta, Shaheen Dhada, Ravi Srinivsan are few examples of people who used the alternate media space for making contentions that sparked flickers and spurious discussions concerning freedom of expression and rights. However, social media echoed the city. Certainly, it has represented the middle class India.
The Facebook Likes, tweets, YouTube uploads, Blogger post of unheard of people, however, did not attain greater follower basis. Although, social media reduces cost, time, space, effort and that all make it possible for coordination, network, alliances and coalition on shared interest, the medium have profoundly used and misused only by hate mongers, misogynists, casteists, middle class. Marginality has already reverberated in connective spaces.
Rise of a social media embedded techno-polis affirms that the rising incorporation of interactive media in political engagement can have mixed responses from the younger generation. The political class migrated to social media do not speak for all. The perils of techno-polis are that it does not represent the system as a whole and certainly not everybody can hear what the political class is speaking in platforms. Majority of Indians, in fact, remain outside the reach of social media and will.
Despite the utopia associated with the user interactive media, there are frightening and sundry reactions reflected in the political potential of new media. The political potential of social media reflects it is highly contested since there is much skepticism and pessimism surfacing Internet configured public sphere. The contest is in respect of discussion projecting social media as town square, ‘India Against Corruption’ as Arab Spring and Jantar Mantar as Tahrir Square of India.
New media role in political engagement and electoral communication has more or less contributed to consolidate cultural imperialism and information hegemony. India is facing the Americanization of political communication largely fed up by social media platforms, which unleashed by American technology in the trajectory of digital supremacy and US political environment. This resulted in the production of a flat politics.
There is a wide spread fear over the cultural imperialism spreading on new media and digital technologies. Electoral polarization, digitalization of protest and politics, political hybridization and homogenization, a new kind of convergence is taking place all around the world as said by Friedman in the idea the world is flat. The political systems, political classes, political behaviors, and political communications are almost similar where ever one goes. The politics is flat now.
The factories of the contemporary cyber hate, cities such as Yemen, Cairo, Iran, Tunisia, etc., produced a new sociality in form of connective spaces, instead of bringing about ideas for changing the world. The cities also co-opted it in the routines of everyday life. There are now distressing make up of digital ghettos. However, they are city centric, created a flat public, where from politics to protest, and hate to love looks as if similar. At the centre of this new-fangled connectivity sphere, spins the new forms of imperialism, cultural power and homogenization of public spheres across the world.
Cities migrated to social media. In turn, social media has made it the next stage in the fall down of city. Dialectic between city and social media resurfaces in new form of class antagonism and in the grammar of new hostilities between cities and villages, between rich and poor, and between urban and rural. This idea characterises the scope of extending ghetto analogy to social media.
More importantly, instead of mirroring discussions that are political, social media sites have contributed much to hate campaign, fun, photo sharing, mere pastime activities. Social media has increasingly used by militants, communalists, casteists, terrorists, misogynists, fanatics, gangs, extremists and more or less facilitate all hate groups to spread violence, hate, crime and almost all deviant behavior.
The social variables of misogyny, sexuality, gender, class, caste, power, inequality and a long list of powerful social forces, which arbitrates our social imagination in the “offline” world, reflected and reproduced digitally in Internet. The Indian government?s attempt to crack down 309 social media sites on the Internet and massive protest and online outrage against the decision is an example for hate campaign online in India
Moreover, all messages judged by their merit seems to be at the middle of confusion, for instance, most of discussions taking place in Internet are purely immature and out of place. Kerala episode of film star ‘Prithviraj’, cricketer ‘Sreeshanth and filmmaker ‘Santhosh Pandit’ are instances enough to prove this argument. A perusal of social media user content makes the picture exceptionally plain and simple.
YouTube videos of film stars, suppose taken as an example, analysis reveals that the prevailing male prejudices against women especially female actors are so humiliating enough and even dangerous which are seen in the comment thread posted on pages. Comments on video of female sporting stars have dominated by sexist prejudices and lust.
Orkut pages has used for not networking in many ways; instead, it has been profoundly used for extra marital relations, illegal and illicit relationship. Especially Orkut platforms like Open Chat Rooms, India Chat, Who is Online, and many other Chat applications are specific platforms but used for deviant purposes especially for illicit and illegal relationships.
It is obvious that the social media spaces are class based, sexualised gendered, caste based, racial, power endowed. It has all the features of society and it?s up and down. The social categories of gender, class, race, caste, power, sexuality, and prejudices have equally reflected in the online world. Religion, communal, casteist, sexist, prejudices and stereotypes are maturing in cyberspace.
The radical media so called because of the liberating ideals associated with new media platforms would normally mean to be a conspiracy theory. After all, the platforms are middle class centred. Indian metros, cities, and the affluent sections of India having broadband connectivity and smart phones have certainly migrated to platforms.
However, it does not mean that they represent the whole of India. In fact, social media mirrors the class character of India state and ‘corpocracy’ prevailing in Indian democracy. It is just a tool and a measure of assessing the true nature of Indian democracy. It is a needle to measure the so-called freedom of expression, privacy concerns etc.
Platforms have showed an inhospitable social space resurfacing. Queer communities are normally the target of attack in Internet as they were normally in offline spaces. Marginality acquired newer dimensions and alarming dangers. Women have taken to see as digital diva. It is almost difficult to appear as woman in connective spaces, for it has become a colony of men. Caste politics has found its own Pandora Box and casteism is as severe as it was before when there was no Internet. No serious political dialogue is taking place.
Intellectuals are lonely and have no audience. Politicians migrated to platforms not because they wanted to serve the nation, but because they wanted to hide their pitfalls and ill competence. Protest acquired new character and in fact, it has become shapeless, nameless and directionless.
The platforms have become the status symbol of middle calls. The middle class also made it the city centric. Now everybody is the new protester. However, no one seems responsible. No one listens. It is just sound and fury, devoid of content. Like the so-called new generation, the medium is new generation.
Certainly, the political power of social media is a well-charged myth. The myth is that the way digital media/radical media operational in our lives are so complicated enough to put us in a manufactured consent and informed false consciousness.
Unquestionably, people get to believe that it is their platforms. However, such taken for granted notions about radical media as people?s media only consolidated our problems of inequalities and ability to question the hidden inequalities. Let us radicalize the radical media and socialize its sociability.