Is Social Media the voice of the people? I would not disagree just as the elite panel on the stage at #Conclave13. The second discussion post the lunch on Day 2 of India Today Conclave didn’t just focus on what social media is doing but how it is changing the world, bringing citizens together and building a new society. Whether it is India, Egypt or the recent youth uprising in Bangladesh, we are seeing societies changing and social media has been the driving force for this change.
Kaveree Bamzai, Editor, India Today set the discussion for the afternoon by summarizing how social media has been the voice of people around the globe and how these conversations often lead to confrontations too. With Shailesh Rao – VP International Operations for Twitter, Dr Amr Hamzawy – Professor, Political Science, Cairo University & American University in Cairo, Aziza Ahmed – Development Activist, and Derek O’ Brien – MP, All India Trinamool Congress in the panel, Kaveree passed on the mike to Shailesh to share his thoughts on the topic of discussion for the afternoon.
Before jumping onto the change that social media is bringing to the world, Shailesh spent a few moments on why social media has become important in the Internet, when we are achieving and able to do everything on the Internet.
“Social media has brought a human face to the world of Internet. Faces or people that we can relate to,” added Shailesh.
He also made sure that as a representative of Twitter, he also talked upon how Twitter as a platform is enabling the voice of the people to reinvent democracy. For him “Twitter is a town square where people meet and discuss things, agree and disagree.”
But for someone like Dr. Amr Hamzawy who has witnessed the uprisings at Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, social media has been a big role player due to three main reasons:
1. Offering a platform to voice: Elaborating the point, Amr mentioned that countries like Egypt, Libya are right now going through a change in the constitutional and legal framework. These countries have new elected leaders but they lack support of the citizens. In such situations social media has been the platform for sharing information and building trust.
2. Social media has also raised accountability for policies, statements, etc. from governments and government officials.
3. And finally social media has provided a more diverse platform than print or television. He also took the opportunity to address the audience that social media has given a chance to debate, generate new ideas amongst different believers and all is happening over social media.
If we thought that social media has only been changing societies in the Arab countries then we would be wrong since our neighbouring country Bangladesh recently witnessed an enormous youth revolt against fundamentalist beliefs, again empowered by social media.
Aziza Ahmed representing the liberal belief of the Bangladeshi youth shared with the audience that even her heart bled when she was informed that on 5th February, 2013 Abdul Quader Mollah was given life imprisonment and not the highest punishment for carrying out the war crimes during 1971.
It all began with a Facebook event where a small human chain converted into a mass movement with two clear demands – 1) Highest punishment for Abdul Quader Mollah, and 2) Jamaat-e-Islami as a political party should be banned.
Aziza also took the opportunity to appeal to the international media to look at this movement with a deeper interest. Summing it up Aziza thinks that it has taken 42 years for the youth of the country to unite and social media has made it possible.
Finally it was the turn of the Quiz Master to speak up. Derek O’Brien who is also a Member of Parliament representing Trinamool Congress started by sharing a small anecdote on how the Vatican changed and went on to become Vatican2, a more liberal one. He believes India’s political system also needs a Vatican2.
Talking on political parties and their adoption of social media, he thinks BJP has been the early adopters, the present ruling party is finally getting serious and TMC as a regional party has an active presence.
However, he was slightly taken back by the question from Kaveree that despite TMC having an active presence on social media, the party’s face Mamata Banerjee lacked a sense of humour. Derek settled the question by saying that social media is an evolving medium and during the evolution phase you learn a lot of things. However, he assured that the senior leader does have humour but social media also has its challenges.
On this note, Shailesh was asked how does Twitter react when it is pressurised by governments to block certain content or profiles. Shailesh informed that any new technology takes its time for adoption and while it is happening we need to educate and engage people. However, if something is truly illegal and unacceptable by the rules of the society, like any other platform Twitter would cooperate. He also emphasized that Twitter has no intent to squash voices, opinions, etc. Amr also added a voice to this thought that we should not have authoritative figures to regulate social media.
And the last and most interesting question Kaveree had was for Aziza on how one reacts when the enemy is also using the same platform to curb the movement. Aziza agreed that this is the current challenge that their movement is facing where representatives of Zamat who are using social media are labelling their liberal struggle as anti Muslim. Aziza added that they have no option but to fight them over social media and in doing so most of the times the real essence of the fight goes out.
A big challenge for social media platforms and in fact Shailesh drew a blank when Aziza asked why Twitter is not banning the accounts of Zamat. But will that be a solution?
Definitely social media has given a voice to the common man but in which direction we are going to drive it, is going to be challenge in the future.
P.S. Thanks India Today for live streaming the event and making it possible for us to watch it from the comfort of our homes.