By Dushyant Shekhawat
When your uncle who only posts old songs on Facebook, or friend who spams Instagram with memes is suddenly discussing national policy, you know youíre now scrolling through your election newsfeed. And like Thanos in the upcoming Avengers movie, thereís no running or hiding from it.
Earlier this month, I logged in to Twitter and thought I had walked into a†chowkidar†convention. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to give the Opposition a stiff dose of reverse psychology and reclaimed the word chowkidar by adding it to his Twitter handle, his stan army, which includes influential ministers in his party as well as online randos, quickly followed suit. It was then, to crib a line from the specimens on†MTV†Splitsvilla, ki feel aaya ki hum election season mein hai.
Like the unmistakable, highly irritating sound of†that†trumpet†marks the arrival of IPL, the politicisation of your social media feed lets you know that itís that time of the year where your netas pretend to care. The viral chowkidar campaign is both an extremely relevant and recent example of how this works. The #MainBhiChowkidar trend was carried forward by national political leaders, pro-Modi celebrities, as well as common citizens. There were debates on TV, jingles on the radio, and you could not browse any social media platform without stumbling upon #Chowkidar. This is what Iíve been dreading ó the arrival of the election newsfeed.
I normally use social media as a distraction from my day. When youíve depressed yourself by reading too many upsetting news headlines, the ability to go online and watch something as mindless as†strangersí pets†doing seriously impressive (but mostly cute) things is a blessing. Social media is supposed to be a break from reality, a vacation to a perfect world, and the introduction of politics is a sure-fire way to ruin that perfect world. But like Thanos in the upcoming Avengers movie, thereís no running or hiding from the election newsfeed. It spreads its tentacles everywhere.
Iím friends on Facebook with a friendís dad, who is a classic rock fan. He normally posts twice a day, and until a few months ago, it was always an old Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith video, accompanied by a caption like ďremembering college timesÖĒ But now, the songs have been replaced by posts proclaiming that†Nehru was a Muslim†and that the Pulwama terrorist was secretly Rahul Gandhiís schoolmate. Sometimes, you spend four years wondering why youíre not in touch with some people, and then a big political development takes place and you remember exactly why.
In the entire history of the internet, there has never been a debate with a clear winner, because nobody admits defeat online.
Fake news†is omnipresent and the misinformation seems to flow faster during election time. And social media is the catalyst.†Studies†published in 2017 documented a significant paradigm shift, where 80 per cent of urban Indians claimed that they get their news from social media, rather than traditional outlets like newspapers, TV, or radio. And during an election year, with people as discerning as my friendís dad sharing their (not so) expert opinions, it becomes even more important to not fall prey to the temptation of getting into a flamewar, or giving up and hitting the block button.
Of course, itís hard to just remain passive when your bullshit detectors are going off at maximum volume, whether the trigger is a blinkered liberal insisting a second term for the BJP would lead to the complete destruction of democracy in India, or some unqualified Indian history enthusiast claiming ancient India had†flying vehicles. But as Iíve learned from painful experience, trying to change peoplesí minds by debating with them in their comments section is an epic fail.
In the entire history of the internet, there has never been a debate with a clear winner, because nobody admits defeat online. So this time around, Iím trying not to react too strongly to the election newsfeed. Iím not interested in breaking off contact with those whose views I disagree with, because Iíd rather live in the real world than in a bubble. In the noisy atmosphere of social media, itís all too easy to forget that multiple perspectives exist in a nation as pluralistic as India if you confine yourself to an echo chamber and refuse to engage with the other side.
Yet, itís worth remembering that engaging with doesnít mean arguing against. I choose to look at overtly political posts as a reminder that different issues matter to different people. I may not be willing to lynch people for eating beef, but it would be naive to pretend like†gau rakshaks and their supporters†arenít as much a part of this democracy as I am, or that they wonít play an equally important role in the elections. I read these posts as a reality check, and move on.
In an†Inc.com feature†about why political arguments on social media so quickly turn nasty, the author puts forth a theory backed by research conducted at UC Berkeley and the University of Chicago, which states that social media is the wrong medium for such discussions, and that having loaded political conversations in-person is much more conducive to constructive dialogue than an online debate. So even though it might not be as entertaining as the memes that once populated my newsfeed, my new activity on social media is gauging where on the political spectrum my friends and acquaintances lie. And even if we canít see eye-to-eye, the next time we meet face-to-face, at least weíll have something to talk about.
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius