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Social Media: Where Hyperbole meets Hypocrisy

People who sought public lynching without trial for all rape accused, are suddenly worried and protesting when this actually happens in Nagaland.

Like every era in the past, we, too, believe we are the brainiest ever.

Like every era in the past, we, too, live in highly illogical times.

Brains and intelligence notwithstanding, what you are reading is about the intellectual paradoxes of one of the defining revolutions of this age. The social media. We live in times when we call the most trivial of things “the most epic thing ever”. Some videos need to be as boring as a wall, to be called “the funniest video ever that you must watch right now”. And, yes, there is not one “funniest” and one “best”.

We live in times where sharing a list of 16 reasons why every girl should have a guy best friend is more fulfilling than actually having a guy best friend. These are times when adjectives and superlatives don’t need to even show up to be earned: “amazing”, “hilarious”, “awesome”, “sick”, “most disgusting”, “craziest”, “most bullshit ever”, “stupidest”, and so on, flow around on Facebook news feeds as frequently as the minute hand stirs on an analogue clock.

The generation that claims to understand and “speak” Sarcasm best (and showcases it by selecting “Sarcasm” as one of their “Languages” on Facebook), seldom realizes that they specialize in Hyperbole much more — and more often than not, they are quite dumb at it.

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Impulsive reactions to news and events — a dangerous trend on the social media for quite some time — are often shared without using even a little bit of the very attributes of a person they are supposed to showcase: thought quality, perspective and intellect. If one posts a “valuable” opinion on Facebook about how populist or how wise the latest Budget or a new Bill is, the post is more likely to be a desperate advertisement of intellect than evidence thereof.

It’s true that the social media provides a convenient platform for all of us to air our views, regardless of our intelligence, fame, bank balance, and educational qualification. Social media as a public platform is all-inclusive, and does not discriminate. Social media as a pedestal to build and harness public opinion and movements is often useful and revolutionary.

But, using social media as a tool to share in-the-moment thoughts may often be unwise, and sometimes damaging. How well do we realize that being able to share our opinions publicly is a privilege too, as much as it is a luxury?

When our opinions start becoming a response to a trend, rather than a response to an event, it is the demise of intellect and free thought. A recent example is how the general public opinion fluctuated each day after reports about the interview with the convicted rapist of the December 16 gangrape victim got viral. Each day, the definition of “cool” and “intellectual” changed, based on what the trend of the day was:

Day 1: “Oh, look at this rapist interview, how regressive the mentality of Indian men is! What will happen to this sick country!”

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Day 2: “Hey, who allowed this journalist to take this interview? Interviewing a rapist who should have been hanged publicly without trial on the first day itself! How disgusting! How bad are the standards of journalism!”

Day 4: “What the hell! This interview was part of a documentary? What sort of person prepares such a documentary that gives a platform to rapists?! Yes yes, ban it!”

Day 5: “Obviously we need such documentaries to understand how rapists think. Why ban it?”

Day 6: “This documentary is now released! WATCH. IT. NOW. The most important documentary ever made.”

No, this is not just about this documentary. Sharing of opinions on Facebook is increasingly becoming an effort towards appearing either cool or intellectual, without having to be either. The definition of the “cool” and the “intellectual” on social media is funny: when a topic of public debate trends, the cool is the one who shares posts about topics and the general trending opinion, and the intellectual is the one who tries to be the odd one out by having an opinion different from the trend.

Both groups share their ideas, more often craving to get the validation of some people through some likes and comments, than to influence public opinion. Our opinions are being formed seldom by our brains, but more often through our news feed: we decide what we feel by how the world feels about it, on that given day.

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Anger and ridicule are two of the most common reactions on the social media that work solely on impulse and are exhibited in the form of nonsensical hyperbole. A rape accused who is yet to go to court is suddenly the most abhorring man ever, while a Maria Sharapova who does not know Sachin Tendulkar can become the stupidest person overnight. A minister whose actual statements are hidden in the details of a news report headlined controversially by an evil editor, is easily one of the “12 men India needs to get rid of”.

Hyperbole. At perhaps, its worst and stupidest.

Rapidly, the exclusiveness of sharing news and views in the virtual society is coming down to the ground realities of what public discourse at the lowest level has always been for centuries: rash, uninformed, impulsive, judgemental. And therefore, silly.

Getting access to share your views with the masses is a privilege we need to use wisely. If you wish to project yourself as an intellectual person with important views on everything, it would be prudent to try to introspect and behave like one.

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1. A good first step for us would be, to borrow news, not views, from our news feed. Others’ views should guide our thought, not form it. An opinion-maker who copy-pastes his ideas from others is redundant in the public discourse: the “I’ll be angry because everyone seems so angry” idea was never cool, never should be. Be angry. But, because you are. After you have given thought to the topic. Not because the trend is.

2. Read full articles, not headlines.

3. Understand what’s reasonable superlative, and what’s silly hyperbole. “The best” may often be replaced by “one of the best”, and “perhaps, the most bullshit” may be a better choice than “the most bullshit ever”. See what’s impulse, and what’s real.

4. Be angry. Be part of the public discourse. But, to share opinions. To take public discourse forward. Not to appear cool or intellectual.

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Social media has a lot to give. We have a lot to give it back. Let’s be responsible. Let’s harness quality public discourse. There is more to public discourse than likes and appreciation.

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