Sunday, 9 September 2012

My reply to Sagarika Ghose

Indian journalist Sagarika Ghose wrote an article in Outlook regarding hate speech on Twitter, in particular, and social media, in general. With due respect, the article seemed, to me, to be a rant, tirade, whine, all at the same time, before ending with sanctimonious advice. Before I proceed with the finer points in the article, I would like to point towards another blog post by Suresh Nakhua exposing not only the double standards adopted by Ms.Ghose on Twitter, but also the frivolity and journalistic gaffes that she shows online. I have also taken the liberty of sourcing some images from the post.

Ms.Ghose has been venting her anger for quite some time now about how she gets abused regularly on Twitter. Any regular Twitter user worth his/her salt would be aware of it. To give her credit, she is not completely off the mark. I admit, there is tremendous abuse on Twitter in the most crass language imaginable. However, I have a problem with Ms.Ghose's portrayal of it. Also, I am not sure whether it is reason enough to censor social media.

Ms.Ghose starts with a disclaimer, shown in the below excerpt, that she is not against Social Media per se. 
Social media is not the enemy. It is simply an amoral technology, a busy highway, waiting to be used by all. If dissenters and propagandists are using Twitter to spread their message, then the government must also jump in and use social media to fight the information war. Twitter has created an entirely new world where public figures are no longer distant idols but readily accessible. Barack Obama’s massively successful Twitter campaign reveals how well politicians can use new media.
She makes two pertinent points in the above paragraph :-
  1. Social Media is an "amoral technology" ie. it is a double-edged sword.
  2. Twitter has flattened the world where it is easier to get in touch with celebrities.
  3. Utility of Social Media for politicians
These points are important to the rest of the post as Ms.Ghose forgets or ignores them later in her article.

If I understand correctly, she clarifies that her grudge is not against social media itself but how it is used. She calls Social Media an "amoral technology". Now, isn't every technology amoral? Take, for instance, nuclear technology. It can be used to generate power for an entire city or completely obliterate it. Every technology is amoral and so is Social Media.

After that Ms.Ghose launches into a tirade against "hate speak" and explains how it is different from free speech. According to her "free speech" means "the right to canvass for a political cause, the right to criticise the government" but not "the right to say what you want". Well, that is an easy enough definition of "free speech", isn't it? But, I am sure some scholars would differ with it. But, hey, who are they to argue against the great Ms.Ghose? In any case, this debate requires a book in itself, perhaps. So, I am not going to delve into it in this post.

According to Ms.Ghose, there is "A deluge of profane language, abuse of religious icons and vicious attacks on minorities" on Twitter & Facebook. And Twitter, in particular, is dominated by "right-wing religious nationalism", as she puts it. These "right-wing religious nationalists", according to Ms.Ghose, vent their "foul-mouthed loathing not only of public figures but of minorities and those perceived as ‘pseudo-secular’ or ‘sickular’".

Talking of profane language, isn't such language a part of our everyday lives? Is there anyone reading this who has not used the F-word or more desi stuff like "ch****a" and insinuations to relationships with women in the family? I am, by no means, advocating use of profanities or justifying them. However, I am sure that the people who vocally oppose such language on Twitter do not follow the same rules in their real lives. Is Ms.Ghose sure that she has not used a single expletive in her entire life in the presence of by-standers? 

Ms.Ghose also has a problem with "abuse of religious icons". She reiterates her stand against abuse to religion in the following tweet.

She, however, fails to elaborate on her interpretation of the word "abuse". Can merely passing negative comments on any religious icon be perceived as abuse? In that case, Ms.Ghose is herself guilty of it, as the image shows.

Sagarika Ghose calling Ram a divine encroacher

So, let me get this straight. Ms.Ghose, who has no problem with Ram being called a "divine encroacher", has a problem with people calling Muhammad & Jesus names. How is it that Ram does not deserve respect but Muhammad & Jesus do? Ever heard of the term "Hypocrisy"? Or is it selective application of morals & ethics?

I happen to be quite close to being an atheist & make allowance for her right to opine about Ram. However, by the same logic, other people have a right to criticise Jesus & Muhammad too. Futhermore, Ms. Ghose also claims
 to be a fan of Dawkins. I would expect her to be more open to debates on & criticisms of religious ideologies. Oops! She is, actually. However, her atheism & intellectual criticism is perhaps limited to only one religion.

Clearly, her focus on "vicious attacks on minorities" & pain at Muhammad & Jesus being called names tells of her boundless love for minorities. Her programmes portray them as a pitiful lot cowering in mortal fear, trying to eke out a living in a country where they are hated & discriminated against. Now she would have you believe that they are being "attacked" on Twitter too. Twitter attacks! Really harmful, aren't they? However, are they the only ones being abused? The following images make a point or two.

So, according to Ms.Ghose's logic, the above two tweeps may also attack anyone as "Violent action is just a step away from violent thought". Incidentally, Ms.Ghose does not know or chooses to be oblivious to the fact that most of the recent riots have been started not by the usual villians "right-wing religious nationalists" but her beloved minorities.

Ms.Ghose openly accuses the fans of Narendra Modi & Subramanian Swamy of accusing her, implying that these two individuals are exhorting tweeps to go on a rampage & terrify the minorities on Twitter. Nothing can be further from the truth. Dr.Swamy gets trolled on Twitter as much as anyone else. And a majority of this trolling is from Ms.Ghose's beloved minorities. He, however, chooses not to fuss over it unlike the petulant Ms.Ghose. And not only Dr.Swamy & Narendra Modi, but many other public figures are ridiculed or abused. Some examples:-

Congress supporter trolling Dr.Swamy

Indecent comment about Sushma Swaraj

Ms.Ghose forgets one point that she herself made at the start of the article about how Twitter has flattened the world by bringing celebs closer to the common man. What she forgets is that among these common people, there can be fans and critics. There is hardly a celeb who is admired throughout the country. There will always be detractors and critics and some of them will be harsh. It is naive of the celebs to expect that they will be greeted with adulation by everybody. Ms.Ghose is also trying to create that only female journalists are targeted is totally false. I think we may say that female journalists are *also* targeted. People on Twitter basically voice their differences with what a particular journalist has written. An example of this is given below. All the culprits in this case are whom Ms.Ghose calls "sickulars".

The problem with Ms.Ghose has been the criticism that she regularly receives from even those who may not be comfortable with being labelled as right-wingers. The following pictures may give you an idea of the reason for the criticism. These images have been explained in detail in Suresh Nakhua's post.

Her proximity to the masses has not only exposed her journalistic errors but also subjected her to dealing with criticism. Initially, this criticism was limited to drawing rooms. With Twitter, it has come out into the open. And journalists like Ms.Ghose are finding it hard to deal with it. There have been instances when people have been blocked by her just because they have asked relevant & pointed questions. If you can't answer them, block them!