I am currently writing a book about Social Media and politics and I am really keen to get your perspective on it. The book is called The Big Connect and is being published by Random House.

Social media sites have taken over our lives. People don’t reckon what life was without Facebook or Twitter! 15 years ago people were actually waiting to hear from each other because even email wasn’t that common and mobile phones were just about emerging. How does this reflect on society?

Do advise if you would be okay to share your views on the following questions.

-Does Social Media Reflect A Social Churn within the Society?With about 10% Internet penetration and around 90mn users engaging on social media – SoMe does punch above its weight by virtue of sheer numbers. Democracy has moved from being a 5 year to a moment- to- moment feedback. It is a bit like companies having to declare quarterly earnings – being in the public eye certainly raises the pressure and some would argue that long term interests are abandoned in favour of short term ones. The reach and immediacy of engagement certainly gives it the aura of a big churn. Can democracy – the 5 year wonder – survive this churn?

-What do you think is the reason for this massive vitriolic by the public in negative comments and trolling?

In hierarchical ridden India, the common man is persona non grata. Did we really leave the babu raj behind with liberalisation. History and political development in any country is evidence that with the rise of the middle classes there is demand for democratic institutions and decline of autocracy and plutocracy. Negative comments are a reflection of the state of the nation and the hapless citizen has just been handed a mike.

-Is social media reflective of who we really are? Is India more communal deep inside? When we scratch the surface, it appears that everyone has an agenda?

I think it is as reflective as any social interaction will be and let us not forget like in any social interaction there is a certain amount of posturing. Given our diversity it is not surprising that we are more communal than others – think caste, family, clan, community, religion, profession, geography, and think of the various permutations and combinations. However in collective societies which are not welfare States reliance on groups and conforming to the code and ethics of the group is important as these groups look after their own. It is a complex society with networks of relationships that must be managed within a hierarchical structure, collectivism slowly giving way to individualism, achievement orientation and still having religion as a source of comfort and well being rather than as a political tool. Why should it surprise anyone that each of us has an agenda – this is a society in transition.

-Are Indians inherently political? Is social media a good barometer of the same?

Indians are passionate about their politics, music, films, cricket. Politics serves as a spectacle like the rest. I do not find that we are well informed about history, civic rights, constitution – our arguments are centred more around personalities and the tensions in relations rather than political ideologies and philosophy. Social media will be a reflection of the people who are using it – in India it seems to be the Net savvy literate, urban youth of India.

-Do Indian social media users need a lesson in etiquette?

If social media is to be a true barometer then we cannot censor behaviour – and it may be the only channel for understanding intensity of the angst. I think filters take care of profanity. Libel and defamation laws are still things everybody in the world is grappling with. What we do need is to learn the use of the language that can deliver our emotions and passion in a civilised manner. Social media is seen as a free for all. I think people need to be disabused of that notion – and made aware that it is a place to have a debate and allow differing and opposing views

-Is the idea of shrill and extreme views the biggest driver of social media?

That is true of all media or anything that is in the public space. So why should social media be different. It certainly plays to the age of celebrity with celebrity gaining instant access to their fans and garnering huge followings

-What positive impact do you think social media is having/ can have on society and people?

It can certainly teach us the art of public debate and interaction with people of opposing views or even extreme views and how to defend our own point of view. That has been missing from public discourse in India. It is very evident on TV channels in our country with mud slinging, shouting matches, and personal comments. And of course instant access – political parties are beginning to listen to the public – the common man does not rely solely on the press to carry their voice – something in which they have failed. There is something to be said about the common man given a chance to speak about his grievances – it is the pressure valve on the pressure cooker and will let the steam out.

-Has social media adversely affected the discourse on issues by trivialising it? Even though at one level it has increased the participants in the debate?

On the other hand social media is spawning a whole new wave of popular culture – The Young Turks is one such example – their programmes are based on conversation trawled from social media sites that are not being covered by mainstream media

-Dont you think if we continue overusing the aid of these sites, then it will keep effecting our communication, self-expression, bullying, isolation, friendship and humanity in negative ways?

I think Steven Pinker, the Harvard College Professor of psychology has said that given the overload of information it is a boon to have these sites that save us time and keep us connected. The reverse side of your argument is that it offers people a channel for self expression – something they never had before. Ascribing all these negative outcomes to social media is making a monster out of it – not sure it deserves that .

I do hope you would be open to answering these. I would be grateful. Am on a tight deadline so a few quotes soon will be really appreciated.


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