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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Virtual reality

It’s time to take the Internet back from the loonies

Over the last few months, as I ventured into the world of Twitter and set up my blog, I have been struck by the strange dissonance between social discourse – the way we recognise it in the real world – and the kind of personal abuse that passes for it in the virtual world. No matter what you blog or tweet about – it could be something as harmless as the latest Rajanikant movie or as controversial as Kashmir – there will a bunch of people lying in wait to pounce on you with both venom and vigour.

It seems you only have to express an opinion for the vitriol to come pouring out, all of it expressed in curiously personal terms. The debate is invariably pitched at the level of name-calling and four-letter words so trying to keep it in the realm of ideas seem a near-impossible task. Speaking for myself, I have been called everything from a ‘stupid bitch’ to ‘total psycho’ – and that’s some of the more polite stuff that can be featured in a family magazine without veering into pornographic territory.

And if you think that it’s just my boorishness that elicits this kind of response, well then, think again. A quick search through social media sites will disabuse you of this notion. Whether it is Kashmir, the Ayodhya dispute, the Maoist insurgency, the kind of comment that washes across the Internet is chilling in its intolerance, downright scary in its threat of incipient violence, and deeply troubling in how it targets people at a very personal level.

‘Sickular’ (sic) journalists are asked who their mothers slept with to conceive them. (Hint: it could not possibly have been a nice Hindu man.) Those with a contrarion point of view are routinely slagged off as ‘anti-national’ and threatened with dire consequences if they dare to express their views again. And then, there’s the truly special species of Hindutva types who see no contradiction in lecturing you loftily on the essential tolerance of Hinduism and abusing your parentage in the next breath. (I guess they don’t hand out irony supplements at the shakha.)

It’s really as if the Internet has been taken over by the kind of loonies who used to spend all their time writing angry, misspelt letters to the editor in a more old-fashioned age – the kind of letters that sub-editors routinely tore up and chucked into the waste bin. But now this constituency has found a platform from which it can proclaim its badly-thought-out conspiracy theories for the world to hear. And its members are revelling in finally having a space where they can abuse whoever they want, whenever they want.

So, as the majority of Internet users – decent, thoughtful people who are looking to connect with others of their ilk, have a meaningful conversation, exchange ideas, argue about their beliefs or even learn about the beliefs that others espouse – watch in horror, this lunatic fringe of venomous, abusive idiots is taking over the virtual world, one illiterate, intemperate comment at a time.

It is the equivalent of a bunch of noisy hecklers disrupting a serious meeting or a seminar with loud abuse and shouting of idiotic slogans. You can bet that they will get the most attention – perhaps even a few newspaper headlines – though the meeting they disrupted probably merited more coverage. But it is a function of our essentially superficial age that whoever makes the most noise, whoever is the most abusive, ends up attracting the most attention.

I’ve often wondered just how to deal with these ‘haters’ of the virtual world. Some of my more recalcitrant friends tend to respond to the abuse in kind but I’m afraid that is simply not my style. Others believe on blocking anyone who descends to the level of personal abuse, but I’ve always thought that this gives them entirely too much importance.

On some occasions I have been provoked enough by such remarks to respond with a ‘what on earth are you thinking?’ kind of reply. But this just brings on more abuse so is somewhat self-defeating. There are times when I have responded with humour in the hope that it will defuse the situation. But, no, it only makes it worse. So, on the whole, I settle for brushing off the abuse – like so much water off a duck’s back –and moving on.

But now, I am beginning to ask myself if disengagement is really the right policy. By ceding this space to the lunatic fringe, am I, in fact, abandoning my own responsibility to promote civilised debate on the Internet? After all, if people like you and me let the loonies take over the asylum, then what hope is there that order will ever be restored?

So, what is the best way of taking control back from the lunatics? I’m not sure that I have the answer to that as yet, but I am open to any suggestions that you might have.

But until then, I’m going to adopt a more pro-active approach. As a first step, anyone who transgresses the boundaries of civilised discourse – as we know it in real life – will be off my timeline.

Because the way I look at it, it’s time to stand up for the values of a civilised society. It’s time to treat the abusive commentators of cyberspace as the social pariahs that they are. And it’s time to take back the Internet from the loonies.


mayhem_life said...

the lunatic fringe is just normal 'gud for very little' people who take out their real life worries nd frustrations in the only medium without censors, moderators or consequences. Under th cloak of anonymity, they rant againt something or someone getting a small relief from bad bosses, lack of girlfrnds, no money, headaches all day or whatever else. Let them be. Most probably it keeps them sane.

sridhar said...

been following you on twitter for sometime. entirely agree with you.


guru said...

i just loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee your articles in brunch.

Dhrubajyoti said...

I do appreciate, Seema

Himanshu said...

Nice post you must be very angry & calm while playing with keys
We are here in India where even Mahatma Gandhi was murdered, so how can we expect goodie goodie things.
Abusing is of course bad even worse.
Last year one of my friend got ill in her exams. She gave me news next day. I was on facebook that time, i immediately move a prayer with her name. You cant even imagine that one stupid guy curse & abuse me for that.I reply again that why he said such bad words, But no change he again did the same. I end the conversation by giving best wishes.
Well it happens not just with journalists. It teaches us alot.
And of course give us another topic to write upon ....lol....
Take it on a easy way. My last blog post truly suits your article Will you be my dustbin?
Someone uses us as his dustbin let it be.

Ajeya said...

Hello Seema,

Your referred article in the 'Brunch' wherein you conveniently call yourself and others of your ilk, decent, thoughtful people, and those who oppose you loonies. Have you ever given a thought to why do journos like you from the English media elicit such sharp responses by people I call nationalists and who are proud of their glorious culture.

Mind you, these guys are not similar to the ones who ransack property or hurt people over something trivial. Neither are they of the kind who stage demonstrations in India for something that happened elsewhere in the world, and what was perfectly normal but different from the way Islam interpreted it. They are also not of the kind who murdered Van Gogh, issued fatwas against writers, journos who had a different viewpoint from theirs. Did any one of you ( I include Burkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghaus,etc.) ever write or speak in favour of those souls against whom the fatwas were issued. These guys are also not like the average internet user, they are probably more erudite, sophisticated and sane than any of you are.

You guys have no qualms about sympathizing with the stone thrower in Kashmir, Ajmal Kasab, Afzal Guru,etc. Sohrabuddin Sheikh has been made a martyr by you guys without even bothering to go into his antecedents. He was a known history sheeter with all sorts of crimes registered against him. He was an associate of Dawood's lieutenant and was involved in transporting AK-47's for terrorist acts. Narendra Modi, a diehard nationalist who has been democratically elected in all sorts of elections is branded fascist by your tribe. Have you ever given it a thought that the riots in Gujarat were a consequence of the most heinous act. Have you guys ever read that Somnath temple was demolished several times like thousands of other known Hindu shrines. And yet you guys deride Hindus and sing paeans about Islam. This precisely the reason for the reaction of sane people who shower epithets on you. The only inferences one can make of the stand taken by you people is that either you are being paid a princely sum for writing against Hindus and Hindutva, you are scared shit of those fundoos or the things that you have mentioned in your article.

Rahul Gandhi, a self proclaimed idiot is idolized by you guys. His equating RSS with SIMI did not draw ire from any of you guys. In times of national calamities, Swayamsevaks have been known to reach before the Govt. machinery and that too at their own expense. Yet, you have no shame in praising a lunt like RG who does not know a shit about anything.

Another guy you had taken to the 7th heaven was Omar Abdullah. He was hailed as an emerging leader of the future by our PM. And within 6 months he has shown how incompetent he is. Such is the ability of our English journos and our PM, and yet you claim that you have meaningful discussions. Mail me one piece you have written which has had national interests in place.

Even after the Ayodhya verdict by our courts, you guys had the temerity to say that the verdict was biased. Nothing has been mentioned about the act of demolition. Well, that was a subject matter of the case at all. Let me tell you one thing. The Congress, communists ably supported by the English media are out to sell this country which no patriotic Indian would tolerate. And consider your lucky that you have gotten away with this verbal assault.

I am sure you are aware that Burkha Dutt & Teesta Setalvad are married to Muslims and yet they use their maiden Hindu names to denigrate Hindus. That is the reason for the question posed to many journos. You clarify your status.

And yes, eloquence in language or writing grammatically correct English does not prove that you are superior. It is the thinking behind the writing that differentiates you so try to elevate your thought process.

Jai Hind.

Seema Goswami said...

First of all, many thanks for proving my point so beautifully. I couldn't have done a better job myself.
Two, I am very proud of being a Hindu because of the essential tolerance that my religion preaches. Ergo, my being a proud Hindu doesn't mean that I have to be anti-Muslim or anti any other religion.
Three, the lady you are referring to is called Barkha Dutt and distorting her name in this cheap way does you little credit. And for the record, she is not married and has never been -- to a Muslim or otherwise.
Finally, thanks for leaving a comment. It's always nice to know how the other half thinks.