One of the greatest ironies of our time is the advent of
- upper-class Indians
- with access to internet and education
- deciding that what an American
- might have said
- two years ago
- about India being poor
- qualifies as an important topic of discussion
- worthy of our time and outrage
- while millions of Indian actually dying in poverty
- deserve neither our time nor outrage.
The Snapchat “controversy”
The Snapchat “controversy”, which dominated the hearts, minds, and keyboard-attacking fingertips of millions of Indians for the past few days involves the following (shaky) elements:
- A news story about a former Snapchat employee claiming that the company’s CEO Evan Spiegel said that “This app is only for rich people … I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.”
- The comments were (a) allegedly made, and (b) claimed to have been made two years ago.
- The claim is made by an ex-employee in a lawsuit against Snapchat.
- To their credit, major news media outlets reported the story as one of “alleged” comments.
- However, within hours, the story spread like wildfire on social media and soon people were claiming Spiegel undoubtedly made those comments, began equating patriotism with boycotting Snapchat, began down-rating the app on Play Store and hurled abuses on Spiegel and his fiancée.
- Some Indians took matters even further by attacking Snapdeal as well, mistaking it to be Snapchat.
Firstly, it is a tragedy that our level of debate has fallen so drastically that a foreigner’s alleged comments have to be the main topic of discussion for millions of us.
Secondly, it reflects a lot on who we are as a people when we defame an individual over unverified comments allegedly made two years ago in a boardroom. It shows how gullible we are that we are eager to jump at an unverified news story and throw abuses at someone as long as it satisfies our personal biases.
Thirdly, if Spiegel really called India a poor country, so what? Are we so unconfident as to not take an opinion head-first? Or have insults and abuses become our favoured way of response?
Fourthly, and most importantly, why is our self-esteem so low? Why are we so insecure in our own skin that we allow an American man’s alleged comments to define ourselves and how we portray ourselves to the world?
— Deepa Nagaonkar (@nagaonkardeepa) April 16, 2017
Limitless debate is good, meaningless debate is not
There has been a general consensus among responsible citizens that individuals are entitled to their opinion. This also means that individuals are accountable to their opinion. Therefore, in an ideal free speech society, people voice their opinions and are challenged on their opinions – all of this taking in a civic, civilised environment where logic and reason prevail. At times, of course, this debate is interrupted by trolls who seek to change the subject through insults and name-calling.
India has a long history of vibrant debate. This is one of the products of mind-boggling diversity and a humongous population. As such, due to the bane of basic arithmetic, more the population, more will be the number of trolls, thus greater the scope of the debate falling to the level of abuses and slurs.
But the Snapchat “controversy” was different. It wasn’t just a social media debate that got out of hand. It was a social media debate that blew out of proportion based on unverified facts. It was a social media debate that led to millions acknowledging that what one individual might have said in a foreign country within closed doors has enough importance to move an entire nation.
It was a social media debate that showed that we have become sensitive to the point of insensitivity.
The first step in solving a problem? Acknowledging that it exists
There is nothing – nothing – wrong with acknowledging that India is, in fact, a country with many poor people.
India, as per the World Bank, has 17.5% of total world’s population and 20.6% share of world’s poor. That translates to about 270,000,000 Indians living in extreme poverty.
Out of a population of 1.28 billion, that is almost 1 in 5.
This is fact, and accepting facts is not up to one’s opinion – accepting facts is literally the basic requirement for human intelligence and decency. The debate is not over whether India has poverty: the debate is over how India can eradicate poverty.
Do we really need an American CEO to remind us that poverty exists in our country? Our politicians, our economists, our activists, our Prime Minister – they have all already acknowledged the problem of poverty. Are we going to boycott them too for stating the obvious?
The first step to solving a problem is accepting that there is one. If you think waging a righteous social media war against Snapchat is your contribution to India’s struggle against poverty, you have extremely flawed priorities.
This country does not need baseless outrage and keyboard warriors; it needs ideas and action. We need actual concrete plans to tackle poverty, because no amount of Facebook statuses or Play Store down-ratings will help a poor family in a slum struggling to manage even one meal a day.
It is not whataboutism to shift focus from Snapchat to real issues
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think, even for a second, the CEO’s comments – whatever they might have been – are valid for public discussion in any way. He is a private individual who made those comments in the sanctity of his board room. He is entitled to his opinions. Also, his comments don’t define India – he is neither the Prime Minister of this country nor the Secretary-General of the United Nations to command such authority over our sentiments.
But the way we reacted to his alleged comments, one could have assumed that God himself had come to earth and directed the world population to label every Indian as poor and derelict.
At this point, it is perfectly alright to shift the conversation to more important topics. And there is no dearth of important topics in the media – we just choose to ignore them.
Here are only a few of them:
- Over 100 farmers from Tamil Nadu have been protesting in Delhi because their families are struggling to deal with the worst drought in 140 years (more).
- WHO published its 2017 report which warned that nearly 2 Billion people currently use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, and 500,000 people die every year due to the same (more).
- 46-year-old former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court over allegations that he was a spy (more).
- The people of Turkey, in a strange referendum, voted to adopt a draft constitution that essentially puts an end to Turkish democracy and enables the president to rule the country like a dictator (more).
- On April 11, Anu Jain, a Delhi High Court advocate was brutally beaten with iron rods. She kept screaming for help, but no one came to her aid. The assault had left grievous marks on her entire body (more).
- Around 1000 workers of the Tungabhadra Irrigation Workers Union (TUCI), including computer operators, telephone operators, pump operators, and drivers from Karnataka, have been on a strike since 17 March over low wages. Many were taken into custody merely for protesting (more).
It is just frustrating that we would rather hound and troll a man in America over comments he probably made rather than talk about actually important, debate-worthy issues.
We need to set our priorities straight
Social media has become a vicious battleground, where insults fly as free as the wind, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem, and eliminating a person’s sense of self-worth.
Another unwarranted disadvantage of social media is mass outrage. Often, this outrage is over unimportant, trivial things. In most cases, it is expressed through statuses, tweets, memes, GIFs, and terrible puns.
The Snapchat incident, however, involved a nation uniting to maliciously attack and defame one individual and his creation. Not only was this over comments he probably never made (he has openly denied ever making them), but over time it became an issue of nationalism. People were literally justifying down-rating an app or hurling abuses at a man and his fiancée as a product of their love for India.
On the contrary, this mob mentality defames us more than it defames Snapchat.
Aren’t we supposed to be better than this?