Youtubers to the Rescue of Indian Progressives


In the current era of excessive social-media consumption, the so-called content-creator and influencer is king – or queen.

Increasingly, we seem to have offloaded our abilities of social, political and economic analysis, discussion, and debate to those who seem to have a handle of social media. We trust them for their abilities of presentation, visual effects and some seemingly incisive research, which, in truth, is feeding on the same internet resources we have access to as well.

We increasingly seem to want to be fed exposes, breaking news, scandals. We basically want to be fed answers to some burning questions we might have, we want confirmation for our frustrations in any kind of shallow analysis someone on social media provides.

And that is why we have joined in rejoicing several youtubers as our saviors, because evidently they are able to do the basic research and reach damning conclusions that we are somehow unable to.

Because, we as progressives, have given up the habits and practices of steady and in-depth analysis, of reflection on the arc of things, of the processual view of things. We have ceased the practice of regular and continual news-intake and absorption, of mulling on various issues and tying them analytically to larger social and political factors. 

Instead we have become random news-grazers, foraging for news tidbits throughout the day on our smart devices, and ending with a haphazard view of things.

If we ever had any connection with on-ground milieus, with people who live and breathe India’s realities, then either we have left the learnings behind or we trust them less than we trust the slick social media prophets. Added to that is the fact that the political imagination in the country has atrophied and shrunk drastically over the years. 

We as progressives have not been able to come up with strong, principled, ideologically sound political formations. Smaller outfits that have formed over the recent past are too deeply steeped in utopian socialist ideals of a bygone past. They are out of touch with a faster-paced world, with a majority younger people, and yes, the need to be social-media savvy. They seem to be unaware of more urgent concerns of today such as the environment and renewables.

It is true that there have been vicious attacks on smaller political parties themselves when they have tried to assert themselves. But no such political formation was built on ideas of climate justice, gender equality, social redistribution of wealth, dignity of the agricultural and working class, and the uncompromising representation of the minorities, whether by caste or faith. Ever since the evisceration of the party Left in India, what we have are hollow sloganeering and a paean to past glories of distant revolutions.

Amidst all this, the so-called, much maligned “public discourse” has devolved to slanging matches on social media. Almost every news channel, especially those in the Hindi language, glory in gory reporting style, with unbridled sensationalism and unhidden bigotry.

There is no space for a well-rounded, thoughtful exchange of ideas, of allowing ideas and analyses to develop. Rather, every discussion or interview seems starkly agenda driven, an inquisition or an uncovering of some sort.

Most progressives seem to take heart – and revel – in the booming and soul-comforting “sharing economy” of whatsapp and allied platforms, gleefully sharing videos, news items, pdf files, or information of some online zoom meeting or other throughout the day. How we are to engage programmatically with issues is never really obvious.

We must remember that though the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt was much talked about as a youth-led, social-media directed coup, one cannot discount the long hours of organizing through the various working class neighborhoods of Cairo by Egyptian labor parties. The current pro-Palestine resistance movement is being carried out by means of encampments, protests, participation in town meetings, and school-and-college walkouts. The student protestors in Hong Kong publicly faced off with the state.

While utilization of social media is a necessary tool in anyone’s strategy-kit today, it should not be the only tool, as it seems to have become. We cannot discount the true value of nuanced and deep research, of informed economic and political analysis, of smart abilities to spot trends and inclinations, and being armed with a competent knowledge of historical backgrounds. Without a minimum of such grounding, we will only end up with one-sided, shallow and incomplete pictures.

We can be glad for those on various social media platforms who seem to be working tirelessly to expose lies, half-truths, exaggerated claims and the like. However, we cannot give up our own faculties of thinking. We have to understand the milieu, surroundings and the political climate that many of the youtubers have come out of before we latch on to their conclusions and pronouncements. 

We also have to not get ensnared in the immediacy of scoops and such sensational discoveries. Labeling someone as a liar, unearthing some evidence to support such characterizations is nothing more than short-term warfare. Finding inconsistencies in human behavior, especially those of politicians, even the avowedly holier-than-thou ones, is not some exceptional feat. All it does is tell us exactly what some of us are hungry to hear.

As progressives we also have to understand the pitfalls of the current social media landscape. Very gullibly, progressives themselves have embraced the very platforms – backed by capitalist, profit-seeking entities – that they in principle stand against. It is not difficult to see that almost every popular social-media platform out there – Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, X, Whatsapp – is owned and operated by a big tech company based in the US which is not socialist in its orientation.

Google, the owner of Youtube, recently fired at least two-dozen of its employees for protesting support for Israeli firms. Facebook, owner of Whatsapp and Instagram, has repeatedly been accused of interference in elections and mass gatherings around the world.

Assuming that while using common social media platforms progressives are patronizing human-rights-aware, forward-thinking organizations is just being naive. There are enough guides and tools available on the web to be able to build better ways of communication and dissemination without depending on corporations.

So, along with social media savvy, we have to engage in constant efforts to imbibe informed opinions, continue disciplined and assiduous background reading, and initiate meaningful discussions where possible – while still leaving enough space for one’s own objective reflection and quest for truth. Conjoined with such deliberate self-study, we have to endeavor to understand ground realities as far as possible by direct contact and participation. That way we can think and engage long-term. Otherwise it will only be a matter of time when most of us will become armchair activists – if we are not already.

Aviral Anand is a writer based in Delhi

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