Edit/Op-Ed

Beyond the Mainstream Media

Ankit Lal for BeyondHeadlines

The month of April was different. Within a span of few days there were campaigns over two issues in the Social Media about which the mainstream media was silent and quite surprisingly the Social Media had the final say both the times.

In a country where politicians rule the roost and the office of the president is above all questions, the netizens fought tooth and nail, and made a difference. At first they brought about the downfall of Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi and then forced our honorable President to give back the land which she wanted for her post retirement settlement.

The mainstream media was silent on both the issues. Not one mainstream news channel or newspaper did a story on the two issues but still Singhvi had to resign and Patil had to forego the land. While the Indian mainstream media is busy with the likes of Nirmal Baba, the Social Media is abuzz with voices of change. A much needed change!

This has not happened for the first time, even before this Social media has been used to raise issues not being raised by the mainstream media. However, the difference this time was in the stature of the people against whom the campaign was run. Singhvi has since resigned from the post of spokesperson of the ruling Congress. Rather, forced to do so would be more appropriate. Never in the history of Indian politics had it ever happened that a politician had to call a press conference over an issue being discussed in the virtual world and subsequently submit his resignation. By calling a press conference Singhvi gave the final stamp of authenticity to the power of Social Media.

“This can happen to anyone and if this lawlessness is allowed to continue as it is, we all will be consumed shortly,” he said. It was more of a warning to the others that if the social media is not brought under the clutches of those in power then any person can meet the same fate as him. This might have made a few afraid but it sent a wave of excitement across the virtual world. If they can bring about the downfall of a politician using their computers, laptops and smart phones then the netizens will be more than willing to oblige.

He also said that “An organized gang has been purposely used by motivated interests to use the social sites for sensationalism and permanent damage,” but he forgot that this is not a group of illiterate zealots being paid to do what they are doing. The people who did the damage were mostly well off, literate and were doing so without expectation of gaining anything out of it. There is nothing like an organized gang in the virtual world, it’s all too discrete to be so.

Singhvi’s resignation from Parliamentary and Party posts and Patil’s decision to forgo the army land in Pune have made the netiznes believe that they can make the difference. Now they know that even if the mainstream media is silent and the court of law is in favor of those who wield power, then also there is one platform where their voice will be heard. With an estimated 46 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) of Facebook and 16 million Twitter users in India the audience is huge. All one needs to do is to speak up.

With every passing day more and more people are realizing the importance of Social Media as a tool for Social change. Those in power will try their best to bring social media under control but netizens will keep coming up with new and innovative ways to showcase their dissent. Who will win this battle only time will tell but the first round for sure goes to Indian netizens.

(Ankit is an engineer turned activist. After completing his B.Tech in 2009 he joined IT industry but left that for activism in Feb 2012 and joined Magsaysay award winner and anti corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal.)

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