Every time there’s a bomb blast somewhere or cops shooting black people or gun-related massacre or a natural disaster, there’s an outpouring of outrage, empathy, sympathy, accusations, prayers, and what not on social media. Some Facebook profile pictures will change for this purpose and some Twitter arguments will break out. People sitting half way across the world will start posting their expert analysis on social media and fact-based counter analysis is posted as comments on the former analysis. You know what’s amazing about this? People are aware. Information is so easily and quickly available across the globe that within hours, if not minutes, we get to know about tragedy. You know what’s not so amazing about this? Our selective outrage and blindness to the whole reality.
When the supreme court of America passed the law to legalise homosexual marriage, it was a major event for the world. A lot of my Facebook friends posted about it. I did too. Facebook had just then come out with the concept of ‘flag filter’ for profile pictures. It was called the ‘Rainbow’ filter with all the colours of PRIDE. A lot of people added the rainbow filter without knowing what it was for, as they do with most viral social media activities. I added the rainbow filter to my profile picture and also wrote a long post for it.
(Click on See More to read the full post.)
I’ve posted about hot-button issues/news before and after this event, including the Paris attack in November 2015. But the response to Paris attack brought forth a huge reality for me. The day of the Paris attack, I had changed my profile picture to this –
It was up only for a few hours before I took it down. Something about this small little activity kept eating at me. After some thought, I realised it was because I was being a hypocrite. Then I wrote a long post about it on Facebook and also blogged about it.
(Click on See More to read the full post.)
I’ve since realised how unhelpful and shallow this public outrage on social media is. I had posted about the gay-marriage event because I strongly support the right to love and marry whomever you want, and I condemn the thought that homosexuality is a ‘sin’ or is ‘unnatural’ or is a ‘mutation’. To change this kind of thought process we need dialogue. Silence is not right in all situations. In some situations silence is as bad as a crime. But the bigger point is where and how you choose to break your silence.
The more we talk about homosexuality, bring attention to it, lay bare the realities of this, the closer we get to changing people’s thoughts regarding this. I have people on my Facebook friends list who are homophobic and so it made absolute sense to post about it on Facebook. Because it would directly reach who it needed reach.
But the Paris attack…what was the purpose of my Facebook post? Who was my action of changing my profile picture to a symbol going to help? Whose thinking was it going to change? How was it going to provide solace to the victims of this terror? It’s not even about bringing people’s attention to something; there was already enough attention on it. All the news channels and online media outlets were covering only this. My Facebook post would make no difference. It was just me adding my name to a long list of public outragers.
Then there’s the issue of selective outrage. I expressed happiness over the gay-marriage American ruling, and outrage over the Paris attack. But I didn’t express anything about events closer to India. I never posted anything about the issues in Kashmir, or farmers, or caste violence. And that’s not just me; that’s almost all of us. Once I realised this, I simply stopped posting about anything political. Before I post and publicly outrage about black American men being victimised by American Police, I need to show solidarity with my own country’s problems which are aplenty but there aren’t enough people thinking of solutions. Just like how futile my public outrage about the Stanford rapist in America and his white-male-privilege filled sentence would be when in our country marital rape is still considered a wife’s duty and a husband’s right but I haven’t done enough to change that. Like today almost all media outlets are focusing on the Dallas shooting and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests. I think the issue has enough subscribers and empathisers already, it doesn’t need me. Where Indians are actually needed and where their public outrage would actually help are issues like sexual violence, disasters like drought and the subsequent farmer suicides, Kashmir, religion and caste divide, corruption, etc. I’m not saying that showing outrage or empathy for any kind of violence anywhere in the world is not needed. Of course show your humanity by empathising, but don’t be
selective about it blind. Especially us Urban Indians are so publicly outraged about things that happen in America and UK but don’t have enough knowledge about our nation’s more urgent problems. It’s good to be global, but global doesn’t mean only America and UK.
And the experts who post their well-researched, PhD level thesis type analysis about another country’s issues – what do you really know about it? Do you know the cultural nuances? Do you know the long-term implications of their policies? Do you the detailed history of their issues? Have you got access to their intelligence? Have you done regression analysis on the data you’ve collected regarding their issues? Are you aware of the big picture?
So on what basis do you post analysis on these issues? Our source of information is just media. Media that broadcasts on TV and radio, and online publications. We know only what they tell us; we don’t know anything beyond that. Everything else is our speculation and inference, not facts. Incorrect and misplaced information is far worse than no information. We’re not doing more harm than good by posting half-cooked information. And every story has many sides to it. One thing, one piece of truth, can be viewed in million different ways by million different people and we tend to forget that when we outrage on social media. Somebody posts their view, which is limited to begin with, and then somebody else who has a different view dismisses the former view by calling it wrong and then pushes his own view as the ultimate truth. Except, it’s not. You and I don’t know the full truth of the Syrian war. We can only be outraged about the fact that there’s a war and show sympathy for civilians who’ve gotten caught in the crossfire.
Or, you could actually do something about it…like be a volunteer in the refugee camps or donate money to these funds or force governments to take in refugees. If your Facebook post can trigger this, you’ve earned a place in your religion’s version of a good after-life.