Social Media Intolerance and the Art of Losing Friends

Once you had some awesome friends! First, they came from your neighborhood – fondly known as your chaddi buddies. Then you got introduced to more friends during your happy times such as family events, religious festivals or community celebrations. As you grew and joined school or college, you made many more wonderful friends and by the sheer length of our educational system you really got to spend a lot more time with your friends than your parents and siblings themselves. When you got a job, you probably made a few friends at your workplace as well and still more in the new community where you lived with your own nuclear family. Needless to say, most of your friends were from multiple religions and regions with varying social backgrounds and political views; some even spoke a different language than yours!

As you grow older, the maturity level of friendships at different stages of life was expected to improve and the acceptance of the above-mentioned diversity was instrumental in maintaining those friendships. And it did work that way too as most of your discussions were face to face and healthy despite political, religious, and cultural differences. Whenever you thought your discussions went astray or not in the right spirit, you could feel the same and you (or others in the circle) intervened immediately and took corrective measures. And most importantly, you still used all your senses in maintaining relationships!

Then the (Online) Social Networks came into existence which gave you a wonderful opportunity to (re)connect with all your friends from the past and present. Due to the ‘open nature’ of these networks, you discovered new friends, acquaintances and even strangers who eventually became your friends! The technology suddenly became so good and handy. You could not only share photos, audio and video from your own personal life but from other individuals, media or publishing houses too! The concept of ‘viral’ came into play and the new generation media tapped into every opportunity to dig out sensational topics, manufacture news, create #hashtags, and send the same to you so that you can share it with your ‘audience’ (not necessarily friends) as well. You became ‘carriers’ and ‘propagators’ of such thoughts and opinions that weren’t originally yours. Campaign houses, News curators and Content creators rejoiced at your cost. The more sensational the story was, the faster it spread! And you really enjoyed playing your part in spreading it – sometimes even unverified and far-from-truth content too, because you were already bought into a plan!

But you didn’t notice one thing! Your relationship with your friends was somehow getting affected on the Social Media (and hence outside that domain as well) without you having a clue about it.

And how exactly did it happen?

  • On the Social Networks, the difference between your family, friends, acquaintances and the general public was fast disappearing and for you everyone was the same – i.e. your audience!
  • Due to the above reason, you thought your audience would relate to your favorite topics as well – be it related to your Religion, Caste, Political Party, Modi, Rahul, Kejriwal, Beef, AwardWapsi, Khan or Kher
  • You were not really reading your audience with all your senses open (lost opportunity with technology?) and hence your views were mostly one-sided or skewed. You just clicked, touched, liked, shared, and LOLed for everything (and used your brain lesser) with the technology created separation between you and your audience
  • Due to the above mentioned separation, you could strongly tell things that you wouldn’t otherwise tell to someone in your face-to-face discussions or chitchats! You were not inhibited when it came to openly venting your extreme views on sensitive topics such as Religion, Politics, Racism etc
  • Once you were opinionated, you would argue endlessly, would use strong words and would try every bit to convince yourself and your audience that your point of view was always right! You thought you were the most logical person in the world. The Social Media proved to be a great platform for even the shyest person in real life to be highly logical and open! Of course, you were logical – in a set that contained just you. i.e. { you } 🙂
  • Eventually, your Online Social Circle became a bunch of those of who ‘liked’ and ‘agreed’ with you and the ones who didn’t. The harmless Social Media ‘Like’ suddenly started getting another meaning. Since you ‘liked’ those who agreed with your views, you even started ‘Hating’ those who didn’t buy your views! In short, ‘I don’t agree with you’ became ‘I hate you’!
  • Some of your real life friends who couldn’t agree with you kept quiet, some just ‘emoted’ it, some commented with mild displeasure and some reacted vehemently; And some of them actually started disliking you!
  • Many open facebook groups became war grounds of different viewpoints and private WhatsApp groups of school/college friends became bullying camps!

And the end result – You sulked at work and home, your blood pressure levels raised, your health was at risk and most importantly, you lost some good friends! The funny thing is that, you didn’t even realize your Gods, Religion, Political Party, Modi, Rahul or Khan wouldn’t fetch you real friends or mend broken relationships!

Ever thought what did you actually fight for and what would you lose at the end?

Some Tips for Maintaining the Social Media Decorum

Listed below are not exactly the ultimate Social Media guidelines but some tips that may help you in maintaining your relationships on Social networks.

– Make sure that your posts are relevant and addressed to the right audience – i.e.Your friends, acquaintances, public etc.

– Before submitting each post or comment, double-check your language – not only for grammatical errors but more to see if you are using strong or abusive words.

Avoid forwarding unverified content and twisted facts. These days, the media and the social media campaign houses/publishers of political parties and religions are so damn good at twisting facts and projecting incomplete views.

– If possible, forward the original news than the fabricated versions of the same

Avoid forwarding spreading hate content in public forums (highly debatable topic) even if it may be deemed acceptable to most of your audience. If it hurts even one among hundred, it’s still objectionable!

– Topics such as Politics, Religion etc are best avoided on your School-College-Family groups on Facebook or WhatsApp, unless you have created the group to discuss only those topics

Keep the diversity of your audience in mind even within a single focused target group.

– Before making each comment, make sure that you are being relevant to the original topic.

Avoid following up or replying to your own replies on Indian online news sites. In order to increase traffic to their sites, they will intentionally create controversial topics and sometimes lies. Further, there are so many paid commenters of various religious/political groups working on such sites.

– Use private messaging to deal with those who abuse. You don’t need to go down to their level to win an argument or a point! If he’s your real life friend, you may want to forgive him for a few times, others deserve to be blocked or banned.

Do not stretch each argument beyond two replies. If you can’t convince or win over someone in two or three comments, you can’t win in even 20! In such cases one of them might be wrong too and it could be you! Even if that’s not the case, it’s better to give up as there’s no point in winning on ego grounds.

– There’s no need to click obligatory ‘Likes’ and try to avoid unnecessary threaded comment series such as “Good one -> Thank you -> You’re welcome -> :)” that don’t add any value to anybody.

Avoid following those who spread negativity or hatred even if they are your friends.

– You can still have ‘Social friends’ without following them.

Be ready to ‘unfriend’ acquaintances if the friendship don’t make sense any longer.

Intolerance and the Social Media

So, everyone in India is talking about tolerance and intolerance now. In my opinion, many of the intolerance issues existed in India much before 60 years of Congress rule or 18 months of Modi government. It goes very well back into our history – before independence or for that matter even before the British invaded us, we had our issues. Our ancient ‘Varna’ system, several religions, 1000s of castes and 100s of languages and their numerous dialects were always the perfect recipe for intolerance. It’s just that many of the unfortunate incidents in the past didn’t get any visibility or viral coverage in the old generation media. Now, it’s the exact opposite situation wherein each and every incident – small or big – is spread, participated and reacted by millions of people in no time in the context of the new generation media. Unfortunately, you are being party to the whole commotion, sometimes, without even realizing it. So, who’s to blame here?

If you still don’t understand intolerance, it’s staring at your screen right now! 😀

Modi may or may not become the best PM of India! Rahul may or may not quit politics! Khans may produce hits and flops! But lost friendships may not come back to you. Think about it…

Going Antisocial with an Unsmart Phone

(Note: This is the edited version of my recent Facebook rant)

It’s more than a month since I went antisocial with my phone! Yes, I decided to break free from the social pressures caused by the phone and this decision was primarily triggered by the misuse of an old smartphone recently provided to my now-teen-son who obviously tried to emulate his parents in terms of the best practices of using a smartphone!

In a sudden attempt to set the right example to him (and prove to the immediate world around as well) I, the self proclaimed role model of my son, uninstalled WhatsApp and Twitter apps in quick succession and then removed Facebook & Google Plus accounts from the phone. This was followed by disabling notifications from all apps except email and text messaging which are like bare necessities for the time being. The phone is now used for basic telephony, text messaging and voluntary reading of news via some apps alone! Of course, there is occasional use of maps, camera, portfolio apps, fitness assistants and web browser – all at will – and hence it’s not competely an Unsmart phone yet.

After the initial phase of violent withdrawal symptoms, I must say that the life is coming back to normalcy and very peaceful right now with no urge to stare at the phone all the time or keep swiping on the screen without any particular intent. However, there is both good and bad attached to drastic decisions such as quitting social apps, under-utilizing the phone and turning the clock back by a few years.

The following are some of the positives that I already see by getting rid of social apps and unwanted alerts on my phone.

(+) Suddenly, I am no more hiding from the co-passengers in the lift with the help of the big smartie and even better – I am able to establish eye contacts with them and even smile at them. Wow! I am still social in real life too.

(+) No more weird movement of my index finger along the imaginary unlock pattern of the phone which used to happen earlier even when the phone was not in hand. This symptom was more like those cricket addicted kids doing an imaginary Rahul Dravid style front foot defense with the full-face blade, at an imaginary ball delivered at them. If the phone was in hand, the indication was primarily a sequence of unlocking the phone, swiping the home screens / launching any app, and then locking the phone.


while (awake) {
/* for no particular reason */

(+) Better interaction with the family while at home or away in an eatery, event or outing. The focus changes back to enjoying the moment than capturing and sharing the moment immediately to get likes from the ones who matter less.

(+) There is no more grinning at the phone or romancing with it which used to happen earlier in public places or even while driving. Now, you are more alert without a smart phone!

(+) Not much contribution to those crowd-sourced apps that make money by fooling you into them – Not as many posts, reviews or comments while on the move and such actions, if at all necessary, happens only on the desktop or laptop.

(+) Your Internet bandwidth usage is reduced drastically with some meaningless media/videos (rated ones too) getting out of the way.

(+) Better judgement and ability to distinguish between necessity and nice-to-have things in life. Now, usage of the social media is back in the desktop world alone and hence there’s a fixed time for doing that. Further, no insomnia caused by the connected phone!

(+) Suddenly, the three year old phone seems to perform like a server! Wow, now I don’t need to support China’s economy every three years (every few months for many?) or live with their plastic dumping terrorism.

(+) No more selfies. I was never a selfie fan but I must confess that I might have taken about half a dozen in my whole life. With no immediate sharing possibility, there is no urge to capture even those rare selfies. This may also result in huge savings in the future as there’s no need to procure those Sergei  Bubka like selfie accessories.

Having said all those, I realize that there are some drawbacks as well when you suddenly decide to go against the social flow…

(-) Firstly, you are a friend or relative to someone only as long as you are connected to them socially on these apps. To be frank, I didn’t receive any wish from anybody during this Onam – via call, text message or in person – because I am no more connected and the Onam was celebrated primarily on WhatsApp. Of course, there were many Facebook wishes similar to radio broadcasts which I reciprocated with my ‘likes’. Being antisocial by choice, I coped with it in no time.

(-) You may miss some focused groups that stood for a specific, meaningful purpose. As a matter of fact, two or three WhatsApp groups out of a dozen that I had, before calling it quits, were really useful.

(-) Your decision to reduce mobile usage is effective only if your dear ones and your connected circle take similar actions. It’s sad to see a driver, typically a husband, toiling through the Bangalore traffic while the insensitive ones – typically a wife, teenage kids or colleagues in a pool – in the car contributing heavily to WhatsApp and Facebook traffic through out the journey.

(-) You are perceived uncool and outdated! Your teenager kid might even try to educate you on topics like ‘what is a mobile app?’ or ‘what is meant by software?’. And at times, it is virtually impossible to convince an adventurous youngster friend that some of us – the Software Industry veterans – had actually worked on the first generation mobile applications at a time when many of them were still in their diapers…

and finally…

(-) You don’t get to play an Arnab Goswamy by breaking a news on your favorite WhatsApp group! Now, that’s a tragedy as you lose the chance to play a hero fighting against all injustice in this world. Well, perhaps one can compensate that with some more detailed analysis on desktop social media…

– Yours Truly ‘Antisocial’

(PS: My sincere apologies to those who weren’t informed about quitting my past cool life)

Social Sites in India and the Censorship Row

Much has been talked about the recent move by Mr. Kapil Sibal, the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology, to screen the content on the Social media sites. The ministry has asked Google and Facebook to screen their content and remove any objectionable content. This move has already irked bloggers and social media addicts (especially youngsters) and like any sensitive issue the news channels are celebrating the moment by instilling spite and going after Mr. Sibal’s blood.

social media censorship

Well, I am not a big fan of Social Media blanket censorship or blind scrutinizing. Nor am I a blind supporter of the current union Government of India or its leaders. As an unbiased onlooker (plus a social media enthusiast and blogger), I personally believe that social media giants and content aggregators could take a lot more stringent steps to curb objectionable content on the web.

The plight of the current government

I do not know what type of content Mr. Sibal has asked Google and Facebook to screen and perhaps it is even possible that his censorship list mostly contain those anti-government campaigns or pages. But one thing I can clearly affirm is that, this is the first government that had to go through so much of online bashing because it’s during their tenure (first and second term, that is) that the social media boom took place and Facebook, Twitter etc came to existence. That’s pretty much the case with other governments worldwide as well. So it’s not that we are having a worst government in the history of India but the online media and new age television channels make things very obvious and sensitive. Going forward, you can expect even worse reaction and criticism on anything – even if the subsequent governments are good – because of the very viral nature of the social media content, especially the sensitive and spiteful content. And over-celebrating undesirable content is another characteristic of the social media – Example: a minister getting slapped by an individual, a public profile thrown a shoe at him, a parliament member dancing in her own party’s meet etc gets more spicier and viral on the social media sites.

That’s where the role of censorship or screening (choose the right word) comes into picture and I firmly believe that Mr. Kapil Sibal’s move comes at the right time. However, one has to form rules and regulations on media screening for long term regardless of which government is in charge. Hopefully we can arrive at such a set of rules without harming the freedom of speech (a buzz word very cleverly used by many for airing any bullshit)

Freedom of Speech and objectionable content

A lot of Indians believe that United States is the epitome of freedom of speech and less of regulations. Many people blindly adopt whatever norms any US companies come up with while taking on its own government on their policies. I would like to ask such hypocrites a few questions.

  • USA recently banned Wikileaks for its objectionable content mainly taking on the US’s double standards itself. What do you think about it?
  • Your own country’s map is flawed (without Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) in all maps published by Google and other international establishments? Why didn’t you ditch Google for that?
  • You share your personal data with Facebook. Don’t you think a US company with the intention of building the personal data collection of all the people on earth could misuse the same for other purposes?
  • Forget the USA. Do you know that Scotland Yard had banned several hundred facebook pages of anti-government protestors in UK earlier this year?

The crux is that, as a sovereign government, we could ask any foreign operator to be careful with what kind of sensitive data that they spread within the cyber space and I do not doubt the government’s intention at that. If you want to know about the kind of censorship rules that USA has please read this article on Internet censorship in the United States. Unfortunately, our legislation is yet to form good enough rules (and enforce the same) when it comes to cyber stalking. Well, we have a few guidelines and articles from the constitution but nothing yet against the kind of things that are happening now. That’s why it’s not a bad idea to screen content, to begin with, if not total monitoring and censoring which is not 100% possible.

What type of content should be screened?

Regardless of Mr. Sibal’s list, in my view, the following are the kind of content that has to be screened for in India.

Character assassination and obscenity is something that people have been exercising without any limits on social media. This includes attack on public personalities, their personal life and even doctored pictures of their family members.

Content that hurt people’s religious or regional sentiments: I get to see a lot of these things on Facebook. I sometimes do not understand why people are so insensitive to people from other religions and their sentiments.

Plagiarism: Unfortunately, blogging has become more of a business than writing itself and we get to see a lot of plagiarism in the blogosphere and content generation space. It would be great if companies like Google can do a lot more about arresting plagiarism than just tapping into the opportunity of creating more indexed content and boast about those numbers.

Software and media piracy: Pirated content spread faster on social media sites – thanks to its viral nature. Don’t we need to stop this?

Child access to bad content: How many of you parents have been successful in restricting kids’ access to adult and obscene content? Have you ever invested in a good parental lock software? Do you know if your under-13 child is accessing Facebook that he or she’s not supposed to?

Anti-government campaigns: Please don’t misunderstand me here. I am NOT a Indian National Congress member nor do I blindly vote for that flag. And in the democratic system we have the RIGHT to protest when things don’t go the right way. However, it is my belief that a democratically elected government must be allowed to operate instead of using the viral media to driving spiteful campaigns against them. By anti-government campaigns, I didn’t mean some valid scenarios like the Jan Lokpal campaign but I am talking about those campaign that take on the government for each and everything that they are trying to do. Unfortunately, the current opposition as well as the smaller allies within the government itself seems to be always on a blackmailing mode. It is a very bad precedence and need to be taken very seriously in the context of what’s spreading in a viral fashion across news channels and social media. Basically, we are defaming our own democracy at times. As I said, it’s absolutely fine to protest but not with the kind of foul language nor taking on the politicians family members or even their private parts (believe me, I have seen real nasty comments!)

Objectionable activities: On top of screening the content, there are number of activities that happen over the Internet which is banned by law in India. One example, I can think of is earning foreign currency via online activities and never paying taxes for the money earned. The other activities include online forex trading, gambling etc which is banned by law. There are quite a number of people who are doing such illegal activities that need to be curbed. There are even more dangerous online activities such as fake viral marketing and money chain schemes.

Well, that was my view on what the government should be doing in terms of screening the online social activities. Nobody is talking about a complete social media censorship like what China is doing but some amount of restrictions are good for all, I believe! By the way, it is not only the social media that needs to be controlled but some of our sensational news channels as well. All of you may recall how our sensitive live television coverage on the Mumbai terrorist attack actually helped the terrorist to kill more people and fight longer.

Have a good and safe social life! And trust me, if your thoughts are good, you don’t need to be monitored by anybody. Finally, don’t misinterpret the Freedom of Speech!