Melvin Krazberg who was considered to be father of History of technology proposed six laws of technology in its relationship with society know as ‘Krazberg laws’. The first law is ‘technology is neither good nor bad nor it is neutral’. There is no doubt, he was right. Yet the level and degree of good, bad and neutrality could be decided by conscious society that allocates functions to a technology/technological systems. When we locate social media tools: Orkut, Tumblr, Instagram, Blogs, Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter, in a particular society, we find that Krazbergs first law is true.
On the positive side, these tools have opened gates and enormous space for the sufferers, victims, people fighting for justice, people wanted to draw the attention of people and government to their plight, people wanted government to address their problems, people wanted to act upon injustice be it done by government or anybody for that matter. There are many who are using it to make their point of view. From president of the country to a peon, anybody could use these technologies in the way they wanted. These tools have assisted the Arab spring, students movements in various countries, facilitated formation of the like minded to form groups for civil society activism, caste, gender, communal, cultural groups for generation of internal and international solidarity. But power of information is such that, it’s free circulation in modern societies needed to be observed, supervised, screened and censored. This is what the government of modern nation states, as eminent domain, believe that it has every right to control flow of information. Unlike mainstream media, social media users are needed to be self controlled, self censored and self edited
If they don’t do so, they are liable to be punishment under law. But why modern government which are afraid of free flow of information and despite being aware of the fact that information in social media cannot be controlled allows such technologies to exist. Is it because they are democratic? No. When flow of information, in knowledge economies, is prerequisite for capitalism, state is forced to bend and give up its control over flow of information. A compromise would be struck between the government and the capitalism to facilitate the flow of information as it is necessary for the success of capitalism. But then once these tools are employed in the field (society), society itself becomes inventive in discovering new purposes and in allocating new functions. It is in this process, commercial social media tools, immediately acquires new characteristics and purpose i.e. a tool of protest, resistance, condemnation, dissemination of knowledge and information, promotion of individual/ group interests, a tool of propaganda and so on. There are also unbelievable negative functions of these technologies too. Agencies, groups and individuals with ulterior motives could use these tools to propagate ideologies, disseminate false rumours, fabricate visual media tools like photos and videos and deliver threats. But this does not mean that every group would misuse. There are many groups which are proving that these tools have high potential of assisting groups with positive intentions to help society. One of my Facebook friends in his Facebook post had mentioned that murderers of Manthani Madhukar, a dalit boy whose penis was chopped off, eyes plucked, ribs broken and killed on 13 March 2017, by intermediate caste Hindu people in Telangana for loving a girl from their caste, were arrested due to the sustained campaign by dalit Facebook activism. To what extent it is true is debatable. When, at individual level, he says so, there must be something to it. However, when we seen that a Facebook post led to the arrest of two girls a decade ago in Maharastra, the first ever arrest for Facebook post, it immediately sends danger signals to the users. Yet after this arrest, there is no dearth of courage in the netizens in using the Facebook and Blogs to write and to run sustained campaigns on unfair arrests, threats, killings, communal riots, caste attacks and so on. On one side, a citizen, who otherwise would be never be heard by the society and government, like to celebrate the availability of social media medium which allows him/her to express happiness, pain, agony, suffering, vent anger, and make a view point and put it to positive usage. But on the other side, the very act of doing all those above mentioned would lead to arrest, psychological and mental torture and even death. This means the Blog and Facebook posts writing and Twitter comments, are both an opportunity to celebrate the freedom of speech and the invitation for attacks, abuses, arrests and death. In democratic societies, the latter should not exist at all. But authoritative undemocratic governments, fraudulent political agencies, exploitative capitalist organizations would love to use these tools to control, to mime and to scare people to achieve their goals. For these agencies, misusing these tools and creating troubles in the process is an essential part of their existence. However, this essentiality is based on the nature and character of these agencies. By being dominant and majority, they believe that miusing social media tools to serve their ulterior motives are quite natural to them. State, as a maintainer of law and order and an agency of governing the society, also allocates certain state functions to these new technological tools. However, the negativity and positivity of these tools and their application is based on the ideology/objectives of the government of the day. As per capitalist forces are concerned, they are not liable for any punishment (even if they failed to meet the legal obligations of the state) under the law of the state as they possess the ability of dictating the state or they i.e. they are not under the control of the state they control the state. State uses its power to control the usage of social media and capitalism uses financial muscle to employ them in a better way it could use. But neither of them could completely control or monopolise the social media tools. Despite the domination of these two, the modern civil society keep inventing new ways and means of using new mediums to counter to the state, to make the democracy function, to deal with regressive forces, to fight for the rights of the helpless, underprivileged and deprived. Civil society, act as protestor, as blogger, as petitioner, as a secular person, as a progressive critique to raise questions on concerns and to fight for justice. Apart from it, caste, community, gender group too use them efficiently. The minority questions the domination of majority, the lower castes question the domination of the upper caste and also use them to fight justice and to development regional, national and international solidarity and women questions patriarchy and social orthodoxy that troubles them. However, progressive civil society and deprived groups, now then, are reminded by the government that they have limitations. These limitations set by the government are determined largely by the government’s expectation of an accepted level of loyalty from its informed citizens in executing the constitutionally endowed rights of free speech and express opinions and views. This indirectly means that a simple anti-government criticism in social media could also be viewed as an anti-state criticism which can attract sedition charges. Both are not the same. However, governments realising the impossibility of controlling the circulation of information in social media which could even unseat the government of the day, would believe that it would be essential to keep reminding its citizens that the government has every right to act up the citizens who seem to believe that they have freedom of speech as an unrestricted natural right. Though it is the case, in democratic nations, mostly, the governments are formed by the communal, caste, ethnic and racial majorities would not like social media tools becoming the tools of challenging the authority of the government. In actuality, the when a majority social group in the government face challenge from minority, it does not see itself as a group that being questioned for misgoverning or polarising the nation but as a challenge to the social (majority) position of the group. Since these groups equate themselves as the real national social groups, they, very cleverly, place all other groups which do not fall on the larger homogeneous cultural and historical frame in the category of others. They intentionally do not differentiate between them as a social group in power and them as one among many social groups in the nation. They believe that they and the government are one and the same. In India, caste Hindus and other such privileged groups in power equate themselves with the government as they believe that their unchallengeable social position in society would means that they cannot be challenged even if they involve anti-national activities, commit indescribable crimes and massacre people who do not fall in their category of caste, culture and religion.
Power of the Fake
On the negative side, these technologies became the tools of false propaganda, torture, trouble and even death. Fake, biased, exaggerated and manufactured news, reports, pictures and even books are not new before, digital era. Yet, the digital tools unlike in pre-digital era, opened doors for the mushrooming of the factories of lies, fake images, morphed videos, fake websites, fake news and holograms. These are produced by political, social and religious groups with malicious intentions of influencing both educated people and uneducated masses have immeasurable impact on the psychology of people that eventually leads to the hatred. Noam Chomsky has already explained to how through fake and manipulated news, the governments manufactured the consent of the people. His study of role of the USA’s government and news agencies in working as machines of propaganda on convincing Americans for its unjustified wars has uncovered the dubious role played by news media. Digital technologies now made such a manufacturing of the consent much easier. Fake photos and videos as pictorial and visual representations of the supposed ‘truth’ and its quick reach would not allow the time to detect whether they are real or fake. By the time, they realise, these fake photos and videos have already caused irreparable damage to the nation but served the allotted functions of their creators.
In India, till recent times, neither the news agencies nor the government agencies have used or employed fake news as a tool of propaganda to the extent as they are being used now. Of course, every political party and caste and community organisations have their mouth pieces (magazines and news papers). The last two three decades also have witnessed the mushrooming of party based TV news channels. Yet given that their background is known to the people, those who see those channels are those who is part of or followers of the party or organizations. The circulation of magazines too is limited to concerned community for the purpose of developing community and caste/communal consciousness and other general purposes. Though, if not all, there is no guarantee that these mouth pieces do not intend to promote hatred on others.
In the last two decades, the internet has opened the doors for mushrooming of political, caste, communal, gender, and professional digital communities. Though it is wrong to assume that all these groups are having malicious intentions, but it seems that the very nature of the certain castes and communities is determining the positive and negative functions of the digital tools they have been using. For example, for the upper caste and the Hindu majority, it is their powerful social position which is allowing them to be openly negative. They are showing unbelievable audacity and arrogance in using the social media platforms as channels of warning and threatening their cultural, religious, political and social enemies and opponents. With the new features of uploading photos and videos in the new media platforms like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Wastapp, the majoritarian forces have come up with new innovative methods of reassert their social power and position. The smart mobile phone with internet allows the crimes on women, lower caste and minority to be photographed and vediographed at an isolated site away from human habitations. In fact, most of the punishments for assertion and fighting for the justice by the lower caste, class and minority is executed in the isolated locations. This allows the culprits and criminals to escape from the law. Now just punishing the assertive person is not enough. Photographing and vediographing the way he/she are punished i.e. raped, beaten and killed is seemed to be much more effective model of conveying the social, political and muscle power of the caste and community. The audacity displayed by the caste Hindus and religious majority on their presumed enemies is supported by the congenial political environment and supportive power structures. Those who dare to oppose the majority and socially powerful groups must think twice of assertion or fighting for justice after seeing the videos and photos of executing the punishment. This nation has witness the enormous production and circulation of such photos and videos on rape, lower caste and minority getting lynched and murdered out in the open and so on. The political impact of the fake digital propaganda is already quite visible. But their effect on the minds of the other is yet to be studied.
Apart from these, another new trend that is quite visible is that the supposedly independent media houses, digital/print/visual, are taking the side of the majority and socially powerful. In the last decade, the media houses independent of affiliations quickly took the side of the majoritarian communal party and they became propaganda factories. The television news channels in English and in vernacular have ushered the era of brand new visual propaganda. These channels have caused temporary blindness among the most educated, intelligent and intellectual people who without second thoughts fell for the propaganda. These agencies determined to place the interests the community that is in power first and country next. Impact of the propaganda of the vernacular news channels is even worse as they are targeting the vulnerable illiterate and uneducated masses that would immediately get activated with what they see. There are countless private digital armies, paid and voluntary, who have been using their accessibility to the internet and putting their skills of using the digital tools to the best to propagate the pride of upper caste and prestige of majority.
Every technology works according to scientific logic. But, ironically, digital social media technologies have became tools of spreading lies and promoting innocence, ignorance, uncritical minds with unflinching blind loyalty among both the educated intelligent people and uneducated masses towards the government, community and caste organisations. Among the existing political parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and to a lesser extent other political parties seem to have fond the political potential of using digital platforms. The BJP, as a majoritarian communal party, on one hand, it opposes science and technology as tools of promoting reason and logic which naturally works against it core foundational hinduvta ideology and on the other hand it effectively has been using social media tools to promote ignorance and innocence among its larger urban and rural Hindu masses to capture political power to achieve its political and cultural goal i.e. Hindu Rastra. It also uses these tools to invent enemies of the majority, invent histories, and promote enmity between the Hindu majority and the rest which is essential to achieve its goals. In this process, the fake photos and morphed videos have assisted the BJP in building the pro-right political narratives and rhetoric and also helped its associates to indoctrinate hindutva ideology among its large demographic constituency. It is these two functions of the fake propaganda which has generated the essential religious and cultural emotions and sentiments among the larger Hindu constituency and that easily got translated into the political capital. There have been plenty of morphed and fake pictures and doctored videos of persons, on development and on other burning issues. These are used quite effectively in the elections. Many have become the victims of this propaganda material. Even the most educated social media users fell for them and latter realised when they were informed by the others that what they saw and read was fake. If this is the case with the educated, how dangerous they are to the most vulnerable people who are active users of social media tools? Many are still being fed with fake material and their ability to distinguish between the fake and real is quite minimal. And that is making this nation a dangerous place like never before.
When the same technological tools have become potential tools in the hands of the opposition parties, activist netizens of the civil society, the educated and rights conscious minority, lower caste and women who do not agree with the government view points are producing the counter narratives, then they are hunted, hounded, wrong cases are filed and mentally tortured with trolls and abuse by the digital soldiers of the majority. The counter narratives on the demonetisations showing the data generated by genuine financial institutions exposes the prematurely celebrated as political master stroke as a Himalayan blunder and organized loot (Manmohan said so) of the poor and middle class to fill the coffins of the crony capitalists. Similarly, a powerful counter narrative by anti-BJP forces on the inflated economic growth rate, the party which has immensely benefited from social media tools went into offense and started preaching the nation not fall for the social media campaign. But this campaign against the false economic growth rate was not through morphed photos, cooked data and doctored videos. So, the fake is exposed and truth is revealed.
Dr. Y. Srinivasa Rao (Srisri),M.A,Ph.D.
International Scholar of the Society for the History of
Technology(SHOT), January 2008-December 2009.
Department of History