Gangs of Social Media

Amid the deluge of appreciation for the peaceful nature of the Jallikattu protests, amid the pleasant surprise of youngsters pouring together like never before, amid the triumphant joy of finally having the government acknowledge the movement, a significant tragedy has been brushed under the carpet.

An actor seemingly tweeted her opinion on the matter, and sure as a fight scene in a masala film, the floodgates of social media hell opened. Some thought she was being ungrateful, some questioned her identity, some others suggested that her films be avoided, and some others, in keeping with an increasingly disturbing norm, took refuge in uncivil language. The actor complained that her account was hacked, and went on to delete her account. The hacking, you see, isn’t the issue at heart here. It’s the inability of fans, of those populating social media, to acknowledge that a celebrity may have an opinion that is at loggerheads with the majority’s.

For many decades, actors seemed to live in pantheons, likely surrounded by hundreds of armed guards, or so it seemed. You didn’t get to see them often. You had no way of finding out what they were like in real life. It abetted idolisation. It allowed for unrealistic expectations of who they should be. It was unfathomable that they could be normal people. Getting in touch with them was a privilege accorded to a special few. And it all changed in the late 2000’s.

I remember when social media exploded. It was celebrated as a leveller, as a place that blew away some of the stardust off celebrities. It was a new world where celebrity image was tenuous, where you could see the real person behind the image. You saw what Amitabh Bachchan would look like when visiting a temple. You saw what actresses looked like without make-up. You saw what some actors looked like when they weren’t being heroes. Above all, social media was to be that bridge where conversations could occur. It was the utopian place where opinions could be shared without limitations of status. It was where you could voice ideas without fear of denouncement. It was.

However, backlashes have now come to be the order of the day. Going against trending opinion is now a risk. The dark underbelly of social media, home to bigots and abusers, will make sure you ‘pay’. Is it a surprise at all that there isn’t a conversation going on? Celebrities are split into two categories over Jallikattu: the overwhelmingly vociferous group for it, and the others who are quiet. For this to be a more special protest, the ones with a differing point of view must not be, what’s the word, trolled. They must not be subject to ad hominem attacks. Their films need not be attacked. Hear them out, acknowledge them, provide rational responses to them, have a dialogue.

If there’s anything we have learned since the advent of social media, it’s that celebrities are normal people too in flesh and blood. There isn’t a need to deify them. There isn’t a need to demonise them. They are definitely not infallible or not prone to disagreeable stances. The next time your blood boils in response to a seemingly misinformed tweet from a celebrity, remember these two words: It’s okay.

Somewhere, buried deep within all the vitriol of social media, there is a profound tragedy waiting to happen. Perhaps my dark outlook has something to do with my recent exposure to the acclaimed Netflix series, Black Mirror. But it’d be a sad day indeed when in managing to reclaim our right to expression, we inadvertently rob somebody else of theirs.

This column was written for The New Indian Express. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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