Do we live in virtual gated communities?

Why have I been away from social media for so long? – Because, the social media is schemed to imprison us in different political echo-chambers. Interestingly, it is we who lock ourselves into it. Political theorists may treat this as a classic case of freedom to be un-free.

The different admin groups are gated communities. Here we encounter only people who are like us; who agree with us. We troll outsiders so that they can’t enter and make us listen to divergent views.

And those who refuse to lose their freedom by not joining a group are treated as pariah or rather enemies of the society – worse, of the nation. The mindset has not changed. Those who are not with us are against us. The cold-war still rages on. We need a charter of non-alignment for citizens.

Are echo-chambers conducive to a healthy democracy? But then, are we democratic in the least when we start trolling – the outsiders in a voice? Social media has proved Aristotle and Darwin right. Man is an animal who can bark, i.e. a political animal. Or, perhaps the Greek seer had said “asocial”. We mistook it as “a social”.

Are we foolish to expect compromise on social media?

Are such gated communities detrimental to the advancement of the idea and the functioning of the structures of democracy or not? Are they an evil or a necessary evil, just an offshoot of the freedom of speech? Should negotiation be given a chance?

In real, face-to-face life, people may tend to compromise on political issues when they spend time with people having opposing world-views. Face-to-face meetings can prevail over negative stereotypes about our adversaries, leading to negotiation.

But these dynamics don’t extend to virtual interactions through social media. In fact, this psychology does not hold ground even during live TV interactions. Reading or listening to the opposition may make our partisanship even worse. There are obvious factors behind such scenarios.

The problem with comment boards of social media is that these are populated with political hard-liners and extremists. They are there not to discuss but to declare and troll. Now, hard-liners are on both sides of the fence. The middle-path followers are just spectators. They are engrossed in their day-to-day struggles and disposed to think that virtual world has no real impacts.

Social media just contain sound bites or snippets posing as debate. That’s not dialog, least discourse. These platforms are meant to seek and speak to and get moral-gratification from like-minded persons. How does anyone expect tolerance at these platforms? Social media is about pushing one’s political view upon the “others”. Here, we find people who think they know more than anyone else. Such closed minds are un-teachable.

Is entire electronic media of the same lineage?

In competition with social media, the electronic media has invented reality-shows which in form and effect are just lung-power shows. Inadvertently, the anchors play the role of trolls here. Twenty-four hours they will quote you out of context for the sake of TRPs.

The real problem is that they don’t want to work hard. They would prefer to run their twenty-four hour machines with their camera-vans stationed in the capital-cities and the metros. It is easier to pay guest-shouters than to stroll out of their studios. It is costlier to run across the nation than to be in-studio ‘demonstrators’.

The guests also love being in the limelight. Everybody is there only to agitate and keep everybody angry at every other body. Everybody yearns for peace but, unfortunately, peace has less sale-value. It is also an interesting point to note that elites tend to be significantly more polarized than the general populace. And, the later is content with having a ring-side view of the show called democracy.

So, the result turns out that instead of broadening our horizons, opposing points of view on social media or TV reality shows just make the partisan divide even worse. The whole exercise turns the social media and TV screens into war-zone. All this may aggravate political polarization in the nation.

Liberals don’t really care all that much about what they believe. They take their ideology as granted, beyond threat. Conservatives very much do care about their ideology. In electoral battles, they are energized to re-group themselves. They don’t really care about facts, however scientific or professional. As such, they cannot be reasoned out.

Is integration of virtual world with real world dangerous?

The anonymity of virtual world has greatly exacerbated the degree of divisiveness in the real world. It’s easier to yell and demonize from behind a keyboard than to do it directly to another person’s face, whether a known neighbourhood face or an unknown street-walker. And, the noise is about generalities, not specific or concretes. Further, it loses any constructive angle. Social media is a hugely popular blame game around identity politics. If asked to stick to specifics, noise will automatically get reduced.

Instead of treating the other side as people with differing opinions, social media treats them like incompetent, slavering, evil morons or demonic giants. How can this side have political discussions with the other, then? Both sides’ stands only get stiffened in the process. Let’s reach out to the other on a human level. No negotiations will be far off, then.

This is true not only in India but of the Americans as well. They are deeply divided on all controversial issues such as inequality, gun control, and immigration. The matter of concern is that the elected Prime Minister or the President is viewed through the spectacles of ‘our’ and ‘their’ not of the country, leave alone nation.

Such sharp partisan divisions surely hamper compromise in the design and implementation of social policies, that is, the functioning of the governmental machinery. Take the case of women’s entry into temples or triple talaq. I am of the view that such freedom of speech may have far-reaching consequences for the effective functioning of democratic society more broadly.

The electronic media-show activists do not want things to change for betterment. They want much more stridently partisan participations for optimum audio-visual effects because this generates TRP. They are professional activists and manipulators, not social activists.

News, news every channel; not a channel to believe!

Everywhere, there is fake news – news, news every channel; not a channel to believe. If not fake, it is opinionating news. In the name of news, they dish out views. The audience just wants honest reporting of bare facts, whether official or otherwise. If false, present your counter-facts. Please, leave us on our own to form unbiased educated opinions. This will further the cause of democracy more than the propaganda everywhere.

I don’t seek anybody’s points of view, whether my side or on the other.  Just tell me how many people are going hungry, not why they are poor. Just how many were killed and who killed them. Leave rest to us. Give rest to your propaganda machine. No why, please. We are knowledgeable.

As a libertarian, I’m for freedom, as ugly as it can be beautiful. No brainwashing people by manipulating social media tools. This is not social engineering; this is social bullying. At social media platforms, people listen to something that is not being said and twist it to meet their preconceived fears of the “other”.

Perhaps the cultural, linguistic, religious, ethnic and economic diversity in India along with the geographical vastness makes it impossible to govern without such machinations. But then, democracy is more than just governance.

The market forces of media are here playing against the interests of the social contract called the State. The State is not oblivious of the imminent dangers, but the State players themselves beat the drum with a view to winning the elections. Democracy has been reduced to become a ceaseless game of elections. The fact is that the whole system stinks and sucks. It doesn’t solve issues, it creates societal dissensions. It just wants us to live in mirages. It doesn’t like to be put to test. Communities have been most ridiculously stereotyped and this is what perpetuates the whole thing. Self-discipline among political parties and coercive constitutional remedies alone can tackle the menace. Remember anti-defection law. Falling in line with the market forces, political parties want to control people’s lives and choices. What is life but a function of choices made by the living beings? Next few weeks will be time for making informed political choices by the awoken Indian citizens. Let’s get out of gated communities and echo-chambers to vote for the nation, not just for our next government .

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