Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Unsocial Side of Social media



Woke up to the terrible news of Sunanda Pushkar’s sudden death. A part of me couldn’t help getting rid of the nagging guilt of having been a part of the circus that followed after she took to Twitter to share her husband’s BBM texts to a former journalist in Pakistan. Two attractive women sparring over a public figure in full public view was a bait hard to resist. What ensued was pure mayhem – Twitterati trying to outdo each other in cracking the funniest jokes at someone else’s distress. The lady’s incoherent anger at a woman who she saw as someone out to destroy her marriage was fodder for the grist mill.

Frankly, a domestic dispute is none of our business. But with so much dirty linen being aired for public consumption, most of us could not hold back our holier than thou attitude and scorn.

Twitter is a cornucopia of opinions (often dipped in vitriol), breaking news, wisdom and wit that follows no hierarchy and worships the informed, wittiest and the most acerbic. This is where I get my priceless news-bytes from, getting to read the inside stories that rarely surface in the mainstream media. A place where I get to sharpen my claws, get inspiration for many of my posts and my 2 seconds of fame. It’s like having found my voice and an audience that’s willing to lend me their ears on every issue that may or not may not concern me. Not just me. Mr Sehgal, the over-worked executive who commutes 2 hours to get to his office and can air his angst at AAP that’s out to ruin his city… Savita, the homemaker from Indore who has taken Twitter by storm with her Coelho like philosophy…it’s as if fame, trolls, worshippers and stalkers were waiting all their lives to find you on Twitter.

There lies the catch – everyone gets to air their opinions on Twitter, regardless of their maturity, sense and sensibility, most of them in a hurry to give their two cents of wisdom before bothering to verify facts. It’s like – look I’m trying to rant her, stop bothering me with logic and facts. After all, it is the early bird that catches the maximum eyeballs, correctness be damned. But just like it is in real life, the shallow have the loudest voices, with everyone dying to play the judge, jury and executioner. The few sane voices are drowned in the cacophony of accusations, counter-accusations and LOLs. A platform that doesn’t think twice before targeting a public figure like Alok Nath, ridiculing his girth, his body of work, making him sound like a joke just because it’s so much fun! Ironically, at some point of time, we have all been a willing participant to the ridicule public figures are routinely subjected to without even realizing it.

That’s Twitter – it makes a joke out of serious issues and takes jokes seriously.


But we cannot digress from the fact that it is Social Media that has often played the Knight in shining armour. Often it has come to the rescue of instances of injustice, harassment or apathy that would have been shushed up had it not been for our active voices demanding action. Public opinion coming together as one on public platforms like these has made our leaders grudgingly accept that they can no longer take the electorate for granted. Precisely why it’s trying so hard to stifle it by choosing to focus on the few jokes in poor taste ridiculing the ruling party and their policies….

Before the advent of social media, who could have thought that an anonymous blog by a law intern recounting sexual harassment by a much revered, senior Judge could lead to a judicial inquiry! The founding editor of a newspaper being sent to jail when he tried to act hot and heavy with one of his staff, something that was for long regarded as one the perks of the powerful. Victims of sexual harassment who swallowed their pride and fought their battles for justice with little or no support, are no longer ashamed to share their private trauma in public spaces, knowing they will find understanding voices willing to fight on their behalf. Think Jyoti Singh Pandey, Priyadarshani Mattoo before proceeding to dismiss Social media as irresponsible that derives pleasure in heckling others.

It has now emerged from the emails exchanged between Mr Tharoor and Mehar Tarar that theirs was a friendship based on mutual admiration and respect. Their affair was in all probability a figment of Sunanda Pushkar’s imagination. Ms Pushkar was herself in immense pain, both physical and mental, before she went to Twitter to vent her angst. A fragile state of mind knows no logic or reason. I’d rather not speculate the reasons behind her shocking death. The Tharoors deserve privacy in their moment of grief. Sunanda Pushkar was a feisty woman who lived life on her own terms. I pray that her case does not go the Arushi way, her dignity torn to shreds with idle speculations.

The last few days of her life were terrible. Her distress magnified by the national coverage her public meltdown got, exposing her more to ridicule than understanding. Perhaps her case was a reality check Twitter badly needed.


She died feeling unhappy, unloved. I hope her soul finds peace.




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74 comments:

  1. Social Media is just a tool. How we use it defines it. But the fact that people can write anonymously or post using pseudonyms, allows many to actually show their true self which otherwise is kept under check.
    Sometimes Twitter can be the worst social media platform on the net. It gives us freedom to post anything but we must understand that our right to expression should not impinge upon someone else rights as an individual.
    Taking sarcastic jabs at social ills is one thing.......but gossiping and cracking jokes about someone's private life. How low can we get?

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Anonymous handles are usually the most vitriolic. Anonymity makes them brave. And Twitter tends to hunt in packs. But thankfully, the good outnumber the crass and with time you learn to ignore them.

      Delete
  2. Heartfelt! Yeah, people on social media, especially on Twitter, act like a mob :(

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    1. They do at times, Giribala. And it's terrible.

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  3. I was shocked when I saw the breaking news update on twitter. Just days back there was this public spat and suddenly this. And, social media should be kept under a check. No one can do it better than the individual. May her soul R.I.P.

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    1. Now that we have a voice and everybody's attention, we need to exercise more caution while airing our opinions.

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  4. May her soul rest in peace , peace which was denied in her last days.

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  5. I would call it the dark and ugly side of the agents of social media, we, the mango people. We have become experts in other people affairs and lil, do we realize how can hurt people when we know very less on them. It's sad when we look at some stupid but harsh reactions on matters we know very less about...I feel sad for Sunanda, Shashi and even, Mehr. Such a tragic end to the lady and m horrified by the political slugfest and her character assassination. She deserves peace in her final journey and she doesn't deserve such a tragic end. May her soul rest in peace, now.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's not going to end here. TV channels are busy recreating her last moments,with everyone speculating what was wrong with their marriage.

      But how's Twitter any different? Don't we do the same in real life?

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  6. it's tragic ... to think that a woman so strong and dignified have died in such circumstances. May her soul rest in peace.

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    1. Yes, I hope she finally finds peace.

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  7. Respect you for this post. It is nice to poke fun at people but when something bad happens to them, one can't help but feel bad about the whole thing.

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    1. Yes, I'm feeling terrible that we were witness to the worst moments of her life but did nothing about it.

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  8. Oh dear! Please, please, I don't want Alok Nath to die! I shall stop forwarding jokes about him from now on. Heck, I'll even start watching all 26 serials he plays Baba in!

    Jokes apart, very valid points. Something as powerful as Social Media has got to have some side-effects, too. Over time, people will learn how to embrace the positives and be mindful of its hazards. In the meantime, we are all learning how to ride the beast the best way possible.

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    1. I hope we will realize with time that with freedom comes responsibility.

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  9. Love this post, Purba. It takes integrity and guts to stand up and voice such things, especially when one is active on such platforms. I somehow find social media replete with negatives -- gossip, voyeurism and narcissism being dominant among them. Not to say that there are no positives, but they are being drowned out by the negatives. As Rickie has pointed out, people will learn over a time to use the positive aspects of it. Till then, one has to learn restraint and prudence while putting up status msgs and tweets.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. And I'm delighted to see your comment after such a long time.

      Twitter has helped me out at times of distress and I've connected with some fantastic people there. With time, one learns to sift out the undesirables and focus on the positives.

      Delete
  10. Loved it that you wrote this post with so much sensibility. Social media has a lot of positives but the hounding, digs and cheap jokes really get on the nerves. As you pointed out, there can be sometimes a mob mentality that doesn't know where to draw the line. I personally dislike putting status messages to get back at someone, publicly publish personal communication and use blogs, tweets and FB messages to settle scores. Sad but most of us don't give much thought to the impact our actions may have on another. And all of us have been a part of it in some way or another. I was laughing at Alok Nath jokes a few days back myself. I was shocked beyond words in the way Sunanda's episode played out. I only log into twitter once in a while and some of the tweets made me sick to the gut. Is that all people can do? Sling mud on a dead person they never even knew. I just hope and pray that the sane voices continue to keep social media relevant.

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    1. I hope, Sunada's demise serves as the much needed wake-up call for Twitter.

      But then the shallowest are usually the loudest :/

      Delete
  11. Purba the link given by you is six months old.Recent tweets alleged to be from mehar disclose her as being in love with Shashi.I of course do not know the real truth but all I feel is ,that the wrong person died.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. This news was published by India Today group yesterday but the emails were exchanged in June.

      Delete
  12. I guess, a lot was happening in her life. A few days ago Subramanium Swamy had tweeted about her son in a narcotic mess in Dubai. After she lost her second husband, she wanted this one to last forever. She hated the fact that she was targeted for the IPL controversy. Above all there were health issues including depression. She was at a tipping point. Anything could have been a trigger. We will never know the real story.
    But yes, we need to be more sensitive. Alok Nath may be sporting enough to say that he enjoys the jokes but I doubt if he really means it.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. She sounded incoherent on Twitter. At times like these, it's best to stay away from social media.

      What a terrible waste of a life.

      Delete
  13. "The cream rises until it sours"

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  14. I think social media had positives and negative both..like any thing else I guess...every thing has two sides...
    I guess we need to know what to take seriously and what to just pass on as a joke... A very balanced post Purba...and yes hope that she finds peace....

    ReplyDelete
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    1. On Social media everybody's business becomes our business and we are never short of opinions on what is wrong with everybody else's lives.

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  15. Social media is where a personal quest for popularity seems to drown out all consideration for others. I am glad you stood up to raise this vital issue.

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    1. We often forget where to draw the line.

      Delete
  16. Purba Ma'am! I thought of the exact thing when I read the newspaper today. That they might try to give it an uglier turn by bashing her charchter in a few days if the docs can't find the actual reason of death.
    It's visibly clear that she was plain insecure, any woman might be when the husband is handsome like Shashi Tharoor and has a past of multiple marriages. Maybe she didn't want her third marriage to fail that inflated her insecurity to take an immature step like the antic on twitter but all those things doesn't give the Media a right to talk bad things about her.
    May her soul rest in peace, she must have had a really really awful time before taking a step like that (If it was suicide, which it appears to be.)

    I hope this time the SM realizes the line before trying to jump it over.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I think she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, compounded by her health issues, when she took to Twitter to expose her husband. But at that point of time none of us were aware of her mental trauma. We found it plain ridiculous.

      Delete
  17. You know, the first thing I thought when I heard of her death was your post on the tweets. Though I couldn't help wondering if you were just another opportunist, I was ashamed over the fact that I enjoyed your post.
    In the end, grievous turn of events.

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    1. I'm cringing at the the thought that at that point of time, I found her outburst on Twitter amusing. Most of us did, after we realized Mr Tharoor's account was not hacked and it was she who was sharing his BBM texts.

      I deleted that post.

      Delete
  18. Sunanda Pushkar was a gusty lady, a survivor of so many tragedies in the past. Even if the reports indicate, I can never believe that she committed suicide. It has to be a case of murder. We'll never know whodunnit...
    I feel she surely had access to confidential info... Also the BBM text-messages were real as she had invited the journalists over to prove.
    It takes guts to voice what we exactly feel in Social Media. In this fake world, not everyone has the courage to do so. Sunanda Pushkar was the rare breed... May she attain peace & happiness.

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    1. I've heard that too. She had invited news media to her hotel room for further disclosures but none of them turned up.

      What a sad turn of events.

      Delete
  19. Sad and tragic. That's the only thought I had. I don't know which is real - the Twitter- where people are their bitchiest in their bid to attract attention and at their narcissistic best or is it the other life, where they pretend to be 'Mr or Ms. Nice'.

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    1. I was discussing the exact same thing with a friend. Twitter is just a more acerbic version of real life.

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  20. Purba I have read a lot of posts on the issue. And yes being a twitter junkie I have seen this drama unfold live and real time (if I can permit myself to say so) I felt shocked to hear about her sudden death. But its a balance of all worlds. And in life no humour (I feel is without a price) it is a double edged sword. And that doesn't mean we stop having fun or enjoy humour. But that also means that when something gets as serious as this, with same enthusiasm we give space to the incident and allow wounds to be healed.

    I loved that you showed both sides of the matter. And quite accurately captured the essence..

    Richa

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    1. I enjoy being on Twitter as well but sometimes the place gets too nasty for comfort.

      Delete
  21. To me, most of the first headlines on happenings is through the twitter list, with select few airing their thoughts on the NEWS. I search for what interests me, and yes, controversy sells. So yes, everything comes with its bright and dark sides, we are not living in a utopian society.
    The title that informed me of Sunanda's demise was projected in a way that gave an impression of a media goof up, 'now so and so news site declares Sunanda Tharoor as dead'. Alas, we're soon forgetting it, burying our guilt with little RIPs and Feeling sorries.

    Regards,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Sunanda's death has shaken us more than we'd care to admit. We were all privy to the last few days of trauma in her life.

      Delete
  22. Beautifully written Purba. Over the last few days I have read a lot of comments in the social media about "suicide being the coward's way out" and similar sanctimonious tripe. On why she shouldn't have done it. But it's hard to apply these rules to people suffering from mental illness or depression. Statistics state that people who die by suicide are frequently experiencing undiagnosed, untreated depression.
    "I would never do that.." well good for you, unfortunately there are people who don't fall into the neat boxes with which we wish to categorise our lives. My wife was acquainted with this lady who lived near our house. One day she left her home, parked her car near the boat ramp and walked into the river. She left behind her husband and two school going girls. Mutual friends talked of a normal suburban life but who knows what lies beneath. For days I found it hard to walk past her house on my way home from work. I knew her by only by sight, had never talked to her or the husband yet the death threw me into a depressive mood for a while.
    Life changes in an instance, in the blink of an eye. Who are we to judge lives of total strangers? Take care, stay well.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Sanctimonious tripe is right.

      “Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

      Thanks for reading :-)

      Delete
  23. Well written Purba. Social media is a strange world where we can criticize as well as love anyone. Its a virtual world where there is a less importance for feeling compared to the real world. So we cant blame anyone. Its upto the people who comment on social media to behave. We as a participant of this channel has to understand ourselves that this might occur with us also. We learn from our mistakes only when it actually happens to us. Obviously it was her mistake or foolishness to post the private msgs to twitter. But as she is no more in this world, lets keep this topic out of the world now. Because those are not here needs more respect than those who lives here.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Agree, we should all respect her memory and stop speculating about her life.

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  24. i am hoping truth is revealed soon without spoiling the dignity of any family any more. RIP to Mrs Tharoor

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    1. Well, it appears she died of a drug overdose.

      Delete
  25. Even in Social media there is that thin line which when crossed can cause harm beyond measure. Most unfortunately stay across the line all the time :( When i read about the incident, Aloknath was the first person who came to mind... Despite the amount of mockery made out of him, he has stayed stable an the issue.. imagine what he could have possibly done :|...

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    1. I keep saying - if you've become tired of your greatness, trust Twitter to take care of it.

      Delete
  26. Purba , it is indeed unfortunate to see the end result of the Twitter war of public figures! I have doubts if the truth will ever be known behind her death but maturity in handling sensitive matters is now become passe':( Sigh!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The media tends to dehumanize public figures. It's as if they have no feelings.

      Delete
  27. Sometimes I feel social media is all about instant gratification. You almost instantaneously get the reactions and they give you a high provided they are all positive. But the nasty side of it cannot be ignored too. I think what happened with Sunanda is a symbol of how tragic this all can become if we don't put a leash on our thoughts and actions. But I don't think her death can be linked to this public spat. Very nicely written Purba.

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    1. I doubt if she was in a state of mind to read whatever was written about her. But it was ugly and now Tharoor will have to live with people's suspicion's that he had caused her death.

      Delete
  28. Purba, I think all of us in our quest "to be heard and seen" have forgotten the very basic lesson - to discern the right from the wrong. Not just in what we see and read but also in the way we conduct ourselves and act. I really appreciate this post from you.

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    1. I agree, Ilakshee. In a hurry to tweet our reactions, we seldom pause to think, often letting our prejudices take over.

      And thank you. I felt I had to write about it.

      Delete
  29. Social media has taken many lives, has made our world more bitter, and probably has done more harm than good. Ofcourse there are two sides to everything; but we need to be more responsible and more practical when dealing with technological advancements.
    I pray too that her case does not go the Aarushi Talwar way. No dead person deserves such harshness.

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    1. And now it has emerged that she was poisoned.

      Delete
  30. I have been on twitter for a couple of years and have enjoyed every moment of it.I know a reasonable number of people in and around.Social media is a tool to connect,to get knowledge and not to demean anyone or to peep into someone's personal life.
    It is upto individuals as to how they use or misuse their handle.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Absolutely. It is an individual choice on how we use or misuse our voice.

      Delete
  31. Leave social media. In a small group like a neighborhood, a classroom or office for that matter some innocent soul may be the butt of all jokes with no regard for his feelings. That's how society works I guess and it just reflects in Social media as well. I really admire you now for being so open about how you felt and standing up like this.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. It's such fun to be passing comments on someone else's life when our own is far from perfect.

      Delete
  32. What do you think Sunanda's intention was when she posted all those tweets? Clearly, she wanted to put out the details of her private life in public domain and that's what she got. Social Media doesn't have the luxury of facts, we've to rely on the information provided by the main stream media or the individual.

    eg: you've concluded that all this affair thing was a figment was her imagination based on a few e-mails. Please tell me why should people not think something is amiss if private e-mails reach the hands of media channels. Also, the BBM messages posted by her suggest something different.

    "Her distress magnified by the national coverage her public meltdown got," - No facts to backup your statement. Did that stop you from writing this? Did you bother to verify facts? If no, then why should it be any different for tweets?

    As for you feeling guilty, would you have the same feeling if you found out that Twitter had no role to play in her death? You've only assumed that Twitter was responsible in a way.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. None of us was present with her during her last few days. We only know what the Tharoors and their friends chose to share with the media.And everyone will try to project themselves in the best possible light So obviously we can base our conclusions on what appears in mainstream media.

      But it doesn't change the fact that what appeared hilarious to begin with became a tragic saga with her sudden death. And many of us felt guilty for our insensitivity.

      Delete
  33. It is very likely that the truth will be twisted and turned in such a way that it may even confuse the actual culprit as to who did this. That she was someone who would not commit suicide is a fact which many people are trying to hide, but in vain.

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    1. Anita, despite the investigations, forensic report, I doubt if we'll ever come to know the truth.

      Delete
  34. Social media might help keep our sensationalist reporters in check. Who knows, posts like this one (and the comments) might help them understand where to draw the line. Personal atttacks are cheap tactics to increase readership. Perhaps we'll see the doyens of social media shaming such reporting with their wonderful wit and wisdom.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Twitter acts like a mob at times, with little or no sensitivity,heckling, cracking jokes. all just for a cheap thrills. The sane ones are outshouted by their loud rants.

      Delete
  35. Social media is a very powerful tool. And prone to being mis used so often. I often feel that because twitter sometimes allows us to hide behind anonymity we misuse it greatly !

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    1. The anonymous handles are the most vicious.

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  36. Love your honesty, Purba. We are surely very vulnerable beings and must act responsible when it comes to judging others, especially on social media.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yes, now that we have found an audience for our views and counter views, we must act more responsibly.

      Delete

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