Sports, Twitter, and Propaganda

Deepshikha Chatterjee

June 28th, 2017 / 5:32 PM

Image Credit: Jansatta

In an era of extensive political turbulence, the trend of making one’s political affiliations known seems to be gaining ground. With the availability of multiple social media platforms, airing one’s views and opinions becomes an even simpler task. Prominent and undistinguished members of society alike, every person is completely within their rights to align themselves to a certain way of thinking. Trouble, however, arises, when people perpetually in the spotlight fail to understand the responsibility that comes with a politically volatile tweet.

The recent frenzy surrounding nationalism has certainly given way to some unpleasant anecdotes about a high number of people being subjected to online harassment just for holding an unpopular view. Gurmehar Kaur, a student of Delhi University, is one such name. After a harmless appeal to Indians to give up their biased hate for the citizens of Pakistan was taken out of context, Kaur was at the receiving end of a number of insensitive trolls and vile death and rape threats. Among all the anger, fuelled mostly by mobs of a similar mentality, were several famous names from politics, entertainment and sports. Babita Phogat, Yogeshwar Dutt and Virender Sehwag were among these people who contributed to this backlash against her. Here is where the issue gets complicated.

Babita Phogat was among the most vocal voices in favour of attacking Gurmehar Kaur for her pacifist views.

Such behaviour, born only as a reaction against a contradictory mindset, is certainly not something which should be encouraged. However, when a known political face or a much-loved sports personality decides to take it upon oneself to mock someone for their respective points of view, it provides a clear green signal for the rest of the country to do so. Inflammatory rhetoric is then accelerated up to a point where, like Gurmehar Kaur, one is forced to withdraw from all walks of social media.

Virender Sehwag, an avid tweeter and an opinionated personality, has often been for his overwhelming tweets. He holds back nothing and rarely refrains from open mockery on Twitter whenever he finds a point of view different from what is conventional. Being a cricketer of considerable calibre, Sehwag is one of the most followed sportspeople on Twitter among Indians and most of them follow their cricketing hero when it comes to mocking soft targets.

Also Read: Sports Persons Influence Minds On Social Media: Need To Speak Responsibly

The veteran wrestler Mahavir Phogat and his two daughters Geeta and Babita Phogat are a part of this problem. While it is perfectly correct to have a defined political stance, systematic abuse in the name of one’s political beliefs must be condoned. Furthermore, it seems like a major faux pas on the part of the Phogats’ social media team that most of their tweets highlighting their support for a political party seem to be plagiarised from accounts that are certified trolls. During the controversy surrounding Gurmehar Kaur, this plagiarism came under sharp scrutiny and was widely noticed by many.

The official Twitter handle of Mahavir Phogat, for example, dished out three tweets in quick succession- two attacking Javed Akhtar and one against journalist Rana Ayyub. While Javed Akhtar’s tweet indicating a proportional connection between literacy and capability was an attack that was certainly uncalled for, both of Mahavir Phogat’s replies to Javed Akhtar’s attacks were lifted from two random tweets addressed to different people on social media.

It seems quite unlikely that the former National level wrestler would indulge in such pettiness himself. Moreover, this trend of posting copied tweets was not limited to Mahavir Phogat’s account alone. During the same incident, Babita Phogat’s account churned out at least two tweets against Kamaal R. Khan and Javed Akhtar, both of which were verified as plagiarised from various sources. Additionally, Babita’s younger sister Ritu Phogat also tweeted out her support for her family by calling upon Kanhaiyya Kumar and his alleged slogans in favour of the disintegration of India. Incidentally, all charges of sedition against Kumar were proven to be fabricated.

Similarly, Babita Phogat’s account seemed to be very vocal when it came to voicing support for Major Leetul Gogoi. After a controversial situation involving the use of a human shield in Kashmir, Major Gogoi was felicitated by the Indian Army for his efforts in counter-insurgency operations”. This resulted in two more tweets from Phogat’s account lauding Major Gogoi and his questionable tactics. The hoax slaying website Alt News confirmed both of these as plagiarised.

Even more recent is the tweet from her account following India’s Champion’s Trophy final loss against Pakistan. Adding to the already volatile narrative that some Muslims reportedly celebrated Pakistan’s big win, Phogat’s tweet seemed to imply that all those who did so would go on to be terrorists.

There is widespread notion that the Twitter accounts of Babita Phogat and her family are not actually managed by them but by social media teams, at the end of the day, the onus is on them. Equal responsibility is on both the icon and her social media team to make sure that such propaganda does not end up hurting the image of a champion in her field.

Propagating hate against dissenting voices in the name of an Olympian ultimately downplays her very unique contributions to Indian society. It reduces these icons to nothing more than pawns in a dirty blame game in an endless hyperbole of mud-slinging. As people who are looked up to, care should be taken by both parties to ensure that petty attacks are not carried out in their name or on their encouragement. Putting an end to this kind of serial plagiarism might be considered a step in the right direction.


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