Recently, some of us were pained to find that some video messages were made viral on the social media attacking and defaming the Church in Goa. Almost all the messages were morphed and photo shopped. Several people expressed their anguish and disappointment about the circulation of those corrosively communal messages. Maybe it is time that we understand the dynamics of social media in a world of post-truth in the context of this pain and anguish. We might need Michel Foucault, a great thinker of the 20th century to open ways of understanding and responding to loss of truth, meaning and values in a world dominated by social media. Foucault demonstrated the link between power and knowledge. We can see how knowledge dissolves into information or rather (mis)information into the pulsating world of social media. The social media space has become a space of production of power through circulation of unnecessary information and crafty (mis)information. By cleverly mixing half truths with falsehoods an explosive cocktail is produced that is then circulated to create opinions, divisions, doubts, anguish and anger within communities.
We can trace that several among us circum to the temptation to name and shame persons or institutions by a crafty twists and turns in the narrative content. Living in a post-truth era, we are faced with a collapse of need to represent things as they are and are satisfied with the similitude that is similar but not the same. The social media is rampant with the similar supposedly standing for the real/ the same. All that we have is nothing but only interpretations that mask as representations. We can clearly notice how these new modes of communication, given their anonymity become instrumentalities of alterizations that foster the politics of othering that demonizes the othered other. The aim of these communications/messages in the social media is to produce power differentials that would generate hegemony of the masters that are served by their cronies in the social media.
The power differentials are a mode of inventing normalcy and legitimacy for the dubious power position/ location of the masters or the power elite. We may have to understand power differentials in the light of perspective of coloniality of power developed by Anibald Quijano (2000). Quijano teaches the colonizers invented a colonial difference which placed them above their colonized subjects and legitimated their rule over them. Power differential thus, is an allied notion that opens us a way of analysing the invention of hegemony and power by different power elites in our society. While both these notions (coloniality of power and power differentials) have their own domains of applications, here we wish to use the notion of power differentials to understand the power play in the social media. The social media has become a space for social engineering that is employed by the power elites to invent and maintain power relations and construct their legitimacy and hegemony. The social media products produce and maintain power difference which locates the masters/ power elite higher than those that are othered and demonized. The crafty and cunning products produced by the power elites or their cronies influence the social imagination of the ordinary people who are then are made to surrender to the discursive formations emerging from the social media. This then manufactures consent of the ordinary people who are subjected to the discourse circulated in through social media.
We have seen that the social media had a great role in the papu making of Rahul Gandhi as well as hero-fication of Narendra Modi. The dirty tricks department of BJP is much ahead in this venture and Congress is also catching up with great pace in our day. There result is that we can also trace consistent ridiculing of PM Modi, Amit Shah and others from the right wing. India today’s under cover study tilted, ‘operation brain wash’ has demonstrated beyond doubt that social media is being exploited today to target innocent voters to benefit those who pay for their services. Similarly, we can notice how the videos about the church that were circulated in the social media placed the content out of context only to construct a power differential. This power differential was constructed to create an impression that Church has no moral authority to support the movement against PDAs and regional plan 2021. These craftily configured messages, although without authorial ownership did disfigure the Church. Besides, these anonymous messages, we can find a highly pugnacious lecture by one Shefali Vaidya on the YouTube that deals with the what may be called the hurts of the Hindus and exhorts them to hurt innocent Goan Christians of today. All this is nothing but an effort to generate power differentials that would polarise Goans on communal lines.
It is only in becoming aware of the power games played in the social media that we might responsibly respond to them. Wherever possible, we may have to generate rebuttals. This may be easily done in open sourced social media but difficult where the medium is open at one end but closed at the other end like whatsapp. Open sourced social media has its democratic strengths. But in an era of post-truth all open sourced social media is unfortunately dominated by vested interest that is out to construct and maintain power differentials. Hence, we need information literacy to tackle fake news and (mis)information dished to us through social media platforms. Ability to distinguish good information from the false one is a solution for individual users. Information literacy that we invoke here also can lead us to prudently use of the social media platforms. Often we might put ourselves in danger and become vulnerable to the mind control techniques of online companies that are out to track and sell our personal information to political beneficiaries in the manner Cambridge Analytica is supposed to have done. Some say that it is best to leave the devious messages alone as commenting on them only give narrative power to them and incentivizes their wider circulation. It is best done in the context of provocative and emotionally charged posts. All in all we challenged to keep a wakeful watch on how we access and consume information in the social media platforms.