Not so “social” any more

In the past 10 days, two people have had life-changing experiences. And been written about, because of social media.

One was hounded and shamed online. The other was hailed as heroic, again, online. One lost his job. The other was praised for doing his job well.

Chirag Mittal is the man who lost his job. Because of an unthinking comment he made on Facebook. An “outsider” working in this city, he posted a few lines about coming here and employing the “locals”. According to a report on the incident in Bangalore Mirror, his post soon drew the ire of many “locals”. Including that of a FB community who systematically targeted the man. Things soon snowballed into a “for-or-against-us” standoff. Mittal was harassed at his workplace, his colleagues were targeted. He reportedly apologised profusely. But those baying for his blood were not satisfied. Ultimately, his employer, a Chennai-based developer, decided to let him go “keeping in mind the plans of the company in Bengaluru,” notes the Bangalore Mirror. His termination letter was even posted online by a member of the FB community, who termed it a “proud moment”, according to Mirror.

Ola auto driver Ghamsafar Ali, on the other hand, became a social media sensation and a celebrity. Ironically enough, he isn’t even on social media. 

An “outsider” played a huge role here too. A Chennai-based young woman who came into the city ended up as a passenger in Ali’s auto when she used the Ola app. She needed to go to Kanakpura road, it was dark and she was understandably nervous. But Ali took her there, ensured that she reached her destination safely. The grateful young woman wrote a post about her experience on Facebook. Her post went viral.

Ali became a hero. The man (who kept insisting that he had only done his job) got featured on local radio stations, in the local newspapers, on tv. Ola, naturally, got into the act too. They flew the young woman (she had gone back to Chennai in the meantime), back into to the city, got her to meet Ali again, and Ola paid off his autorickshaw loan.

And what did Ali say about all this hoo-ha? Bewildered by the attention, this is what he told the young woman, according to a report in The Hindu: “Madamji, I don’t even know why I’m famous. I hear it’s because of Facebook. I know what Facebook is… But what is a ‘Like’?”

So much hate for one person.  So much love for another.

Just another “trending topic” on social media.

Chirag Mittal’s story reminded me of Justine Sacco, another hapless social media user (and later, victim), whose unthinking tweet haunted and hounded her. On a long journey from New York to South Africa, Sacco made a series of acerbic tweets, some pretty insensitive, some just plain whiney–about co-passengers, the food, her thoughts, so on and so forth. One of those tweets went viral. By the time, her plane made the 11-hour flight to Cape Town, she had become a global hate magnet. And yes, she lost her job too.

The problem is, social media is now increasingly a space of extremes. More often than not, anyone making a negative comment or holding a dissenting opinion (on anything or anyone) tends to be showered with the worst sort of abuse, personal and otherwise. Till he or she is silenced.

In fact, things that go viral also reveal our hypocrisy and our double standards, in real life. Like the #selfiewithdaughter backlash that had men saying the vilest things to the two women who had a dissenting opinion. Those same men abused them after they (the men) had posted cute photos of themselves posing with their own daughters. That young daughters grow up to become young women, did not matter to those men.

Like the slew of posts and tweets lambasting a city-based jeweller for daring to organise a “dowri” trunk show. Even though in our daily lives, we take “wedding gifts from the inlaws” for granted, and expect the inlaws to pay for the new washing machine, the new car, the down payment on the new flat.

Like the thousands of likes, shares and thumbs-ups we give to stories about young women who stand up to perverts and flashers. While in real life, if we see a woman being molested or if we see a bully beating someone up, we look away, or worse, take a video/photo on our smartphones… to post it on social media.

Sadly, social media today brings out the best in us. And the worst in us.

So, why are we even calling it “social” media?

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