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

Hindustan Times (Patna) - - YEAR REVIEW 2012 - —N Mad­ha­van

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!


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