Over the few days that followed Wing Commander Abhinandan’s capture by the Pakistani army, I was added to a WhatsApp group by a friend who promised me that I would enjoy the kind of political discussions taking place on that platform. It turned out to be an echo chamber of ring-wing propaganda, where conspiracy theories and pseudo nationalist agendas found a home. Apparently, the Congress was responsible for the Pulwama attack and Rahul Gandhi had himself drafted the plan to kill those 40 chaps. Oh, and there was someone on the group who thought that the name ‘India’ was ‘sickular.’ The fact that the terms India and Hindu both have a common genesis and share etymology was lost on this erudite crowd.
In any case, it got me thinking about the role that WhatsApp – and social media in general – played in furthering what was termed as the “fog of war” in the aftermath of the air-strikes. Fake stories, heavily edited videos, and recycled and regurgitated footage kept flooding social media – and mainstream media – on either side of the border, feeding a population that was already high on a deadly cocktail of nationalism and xenophobia. Over-enthusiastic TV anchors and newsmen were determined to fight a “war” from their newsrooms, invading our homes with their venom. Armchair thinkers and pseudo intellectuals were busy discussing next steps and possible action that India and Pakistan could take in 280 characters. Everyone I spoke to was suddenly an expert in warfare, international relations and more importantly the Geneva Convention.
The fact that we committed an act of war the minute our fighter jets crossed the LoC and entered their airspace was lost on everyone. Nobody dared question the government and its narrative that 250-300 “terrorists” were killed in the surgical strike, while satellite images show little to zero damage to structures that were supposedly targeted. The headlines have now shifted to Wing Commander Abhinandan’s return and Masood Azar – as gently and as swiftly as Modi has slipped into his electoral duties. Like this fiasco never really happened…
I believe that the Modi government has done some good work, in a lot of areas. And I know that I will never vote for the Congress – or any other political party – for as long as I am alive. But I also reserve the right to dissent and call it out for its hypocrisy. And this episode was an unnecessary act of chest thumping and war-mongering, conveniently creating a bugaboo before the general elections of 2019. As I write this, it also strikes me that the space for intellectual debate and intelligent conversation has shrunk, not because of an Orwellian government, but because of social media. It has shortened our attention spans and has forced us to expect policies, politics and wars to be played in near real-time in 280 characters. Our willingness to listen to different perspectives is now a function of how those perspectives align with ours…We’re living in a post-truth world filled with echo chambers, one of which is social media… It is, as Lady Gaga would say, truly the toilet of the internet.