I Wonder What Entails Expression?


Expression is possible through channels of power. Well established channels like gender, class, race, caste have for centuries aided expression of the few powerful people in this world. The underdogs express only in retaliation. That expression is of power too but of a different kind. It is of asserting oneself. Righting a wrong, it is in answer to or in reference to the dominant force.

But expression for its own sake, its own pleasure, affirming the right, not having to prove anything to anyone but building on age old hierarchies is the most powerful form of expression. That legitimacy is power.

But in the age of social media, there is an apparent felt democratization of the power. Now everyone has the equal ‘chance’ of becoming a celebrity, having many followers. (This is not to ignore that FB, instagram, youtube and whatsapp among others brings with it the well established hierarchies online too.) But there is an apparent felt possibility of doing away with these hegemonic forces via the social media.

Now everyone can have the dream wedding, publicly announce their monthly anniversaries, make videos of themselves dancing, singing or show casing their talent in the vain hope that they will get several likes, views etc. Expression is no longer waiting for the blessing of the expert in the field. Expression is taking the plunge in the pool of audience that is now available through the network.

This pool also has many like-minded people. You truly are not alone in your grief, anger, joy or political etc opinion. You can broadcast it and see if you get a following. You are at par with the bureaucrat or politician with a simple click of the mouse. This fruit called power can be eaten by many, in this day and age.

Expression is entirely tied to power. For if you did lack the backing or the initial thrust (like social media provides) you wouldn’t be even a local hero. Social media makes you feel heard, important, to at least a few behind the blue screen. That is the power we crave for and now it is possible to get a thousand likes for a selfie or for taking a picture of your plate of food. Legitimacy is acquired by the erstwhile underdogs. The Queen of England can languish in obscurity! Everyone is a princess today.

This legitimacy has its positives, because the playing field can be leveled like one sees on social media – everyone is important and possibly equal!

That legitimacy gives space for expressions for violence too, uploading of violent communal acts, public shaming, voyeuristic circulation of a rape on whatsapp, showcasing the camaraderie on streets protesting on behalf of the rapists, and defending age old hierarchies. The last is important cause this type of expression is also now a form of retaliation to the multifarious attacks that the established forces now reel under. This is one of the few positive fallouts of social media.

Expression has now become a tool of might is right in social media. That might may result in Incels violence like in Toronto. That might may lead to notinmyname type of protests on the streets. Social media allows the space for coming together. It allows the scope for group backed expression. Whether that expression is warranted/ morally correct or not, becomes a different issue.

The point is, what happens when the inner craving for being heard after being denied a voice comes face to face with a powerful platform like FB? Does social media allow the space for a moral compass (beyond NSA surveillance? – it sounds funny even as I wonder)?  Do you reflect on your thoughts, measure your words, re-think your politics, as a potential influencer of a million minds? The world is watching how you use this power. And it is larger than your list of followers.

Debjanee Ganguly is a PHD scholar in JNU



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