Who’s afraid of being online?
The PM went atwitter, Modi used social media to scale up his campaign and the aam aadmi was disciplined with the 66A stick
It was a year when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, famous for his silence, decided to get a Twitter handle and current arch-foe of the Congress, Narendra Modi, crossed one million followers on Twitter.
Later in the year, Modi also used social media effectively to build a frenzied following ahead of state elections in Gujarat. If politics is hot, can controversy be far behind? The Right vs Liberal game played out actively on social media, with some ugly consequences. An exodus of northeastern students from Bangalore and Pune was partly based on social media that spread panic — and its roots lay in morphed visuals of events in Burma where ethnic Bengali Rohingya Muslims suffered violence.
Things got uglier when detentions and arrests of social media users happened — based on allegations of defamatory and abusive content under Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
While free speech activists rose in protest, alleging Draconian highhandedness, communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal had to put on his legalistic best to defend a UPA accused of political victimisation of its critics.
As the year ends, the controversial law stands — though its enforcement has been lifted to higher levels of the police hierarchy. Still, a pall hangs over social media in India: Is free speech under threat?
At the same time, the rise of abusive content brought in strong questions on the responsibility of social media.
But Indians are in a celebratory mood on Facebook, which seems to have the colourful character — and song and dance — of a Bollywood movie. While Facebook went public during the year in a blockbuster debut on the stock market (and later suffered as financial success was questioned), its chief and founder Mark Zuckerburg openly bet on India as a key growth zone in the future.
Facebook users in India are now more than 60 million, having crossed the 50-million mark this year. A study in August estimated that Indians spent one in four minutes online on social networks. With cheap smartphones under
R3,000, and even cheaper smart “feature” phones being enabled for social media, and tablet PCs coming close to R5,000, the explosion has just begun.
If any doubt was left about the power of social media, the Pope removed it. The pontiff had one million followers ready even before his first tweet in December!