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The Butterfly Effect & Shooting The Messenger

It's the butterfly effect and rather than remain embroiled in that spiral of sparring and only lend centripetal force to the tornado, the powers that be need to elevate that narrative to escape getting sucked into its vortex.

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“Momma tweet, Poppa sweet, and their family full of tweetle bums”, is an incredibly catchy nursery rhyme we may remember. However, we may never have realised that such sweet tweets can land us in big trouble. 

Here is a cyclone that makes Cyclone Tauktae look like a pygmy. It has a vortex too and at its eye, is Twitter. There are 3 versions to it and the messenger is already shot in the leg!

That an opposition party is accused of posting material critical of the government, that a spokesperson of the government challenging it, and twitter, the 'microblogging' site precipitating a fight by flagging the spokesperson’s stand as ‘manipulated’, all prime points in an evolving plot.

Were all these predictable events? Who then is right of the three concerned parties? It's a bit cokeyed, where the right cannot see the left eye and yet they are both seeing. At the centre is the cock head. (Pun if you please) A cock is a time worn, cliched or hackneyed expression, if you will as is this storm, that trivialises the pain of the person on the street or those dying. Bravo! If this was to divert the national attention!

These are times when all efforts must be made to contain Covid and provide relief to the harassed and hard-pressed masses. Both Gurgaon and Delhi are in a lockdown mode. Our External Affairs Minister is visiting USA in search of some very important outcomes. Both Centre and the States are talking to US companies for vaccine procurement. We are in the midst of a devastating pandemic. The foreign press is crying hoarse that we are dropping in the freedom index, the free press index and even the FDI confidence index. Anyone worth their position in the international media is looking at us with a magnifying glass. Was this then the appropriate moment for the raids which can attract more international media attention? 

Statista, the popular Business Data Platform, reports, US leading with 69.3 million twitter users, followed by Japan with 50.9 and India with 17.5 million users as of January 2021. Besides, UK, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, France, Philippines, Spain and Thailand in that order have rapidly falling number of users on Twitter, with the last said logging 70 lakh users. Rest of the countries do not even merit a mention. Officials claim more followers for some of our top leaders than the number of users on Twitter. Does it sound logical or something else is at work? 

The Twitter user base in India is just 1% of the population. Most, only in big cities, leave alone the towns and villages, do not even know who she is or what it is. Is there a pride quotient? When a political leader or a film star is blocked or flagged for unethical activity, the electronic media goes to town. For the alleged perpetrators, it is like an ego trip. Is it media hype or media bashing that we are witnessing? What is the hullabaloo or commotion about? It is another matter that we have conveniently forgotten the larger malice of Covid unfolding with the leaders defending their purported actions or inactions. There are larger issues to address than a pygmy twitter. Law must make a distinction between a moving car and not try the car for an accident that was caused by the driver! That is not happening because the media is split in the middle.

Media channels too; for lack of news then give these miniature twitter handles a spiral from that viral, since Covid is no longer breaking news! It is typically Jehovah from the Governemnt that changes the language, the track and the narrative to keep the folks from building the tower of Babel as the poor cows must go home. While Twitter itself is only an infotainment arena, it is amusing how other Media acts the divine shepherd, that takes the poor folks and cows away from their grief and back to their home.

Common limitations to freedom of speech relate to libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labelling and the like. Would they be any different from what they are, if they do not involve the government or the political leaders? Will it cease to be libel or slander now, if two individuals on the chat group complain? Will pornography become any less offensive if traded in a group if it does not involve the government? Each attribute needs to be proved if the new rules are to be implemented. Technically, everyone on WhatsApp groups can be hauled up if end-to-end encryption were to go, for 90% of the messages except the most docile ones like “Good Morning” or “Good Night”, would qualify to be either libel, slander or incitement. Even the most docile ones would look obnoxious if delivered out of context. Besides, are our Police and Courts equipped to handle the load of new entrants to crime? Statistics reveal that there are over 44 million cases pending in the courts in India. That's an increment of 19% only in the last year. So much to speak of the health of justice that is already vulnerable and weighed down.

As for the hype and hoopla surrounding FDI, the health of judiciary is a very important determinant when deciding to or not bringing FDI into a convoluted and toxic ecosystem especially with Law that lags!

If pursued further, the social media platforms could all be rendered meaningless and tepid. If no one finds a value in these platforms, why not ban them and run campaigns to denounce their use? Why allow them and then throttle? Obviously, they cannot be expected to be government spokespersons. 

It is perhaps time that media took to reporting as reporting and did not use their cokeyed narratives. The media is supoosed to be at the eye of the storm and not make themselves redundant to the larger public interest. 

To use an analogy; a Media is a car on the road, it is upto the driver to drive on the right or the wrong side of the road. The driver alone will only be tried for an offence, unless the car interferes with his navigational skills.

As for the legalese surrounding these: A rule of the road is a paradox quiet, you are wrong if you walk on the right! Legalese is largely the use of discretion. Its true too; the same water that hardens an egg, softens a potato. Unless that parrallax in the optics is not corrected, many a messnger will be tried and shot! At this rate for the next tsunami, a butterfly flapping its wings across the Atlantic must be tried. as the "butterfly effect" that you and I know of. In the good old days however, the messenger would not be shot. Now however because the messenger has deep biases, he is prejudiced in his mind and therefore by the king! It’s time that news was reported as news! Twitter laughed off as infotainment and Pandemics dealt as Pandemics. It's the butterfly effect and rather than remain embroiled in that spiral of sparring and only lend centripetal force to the tornado, the powers that be need to elevate that narrative to escape getting sucked into its vortex.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Dr S S Mantha

Former Chairman of AICTE, Dr. Mantha is an eminent academician. At present he is Chancellor KL University and Adjunct Professor, NIAS, Bangalore.

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Yogesh Kochhar

The author is Corporate maven and a happiness evangelist

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