Twitter: The Medium Demands Self-discipline


Twitter, an online social networking and microblogging service was born in 2006. Interestingly, in a short span of time it has emerged as one of the most popular mediums of influence. This service at times also gets described as ‘SMS of Internet’.  Like any other internet based services this amenity too has both positives and negatives. To judge the relevance of any such service it is also important to check the category of users using such services and their approach behind using it. Particularly in Indian context it appears that ‘idea of twitter’ is getting defeated and is becoming more as bane than boon.


Today, Twitter has been used by politician to reach wider audience almost on real-time basis. Also, many commentators on varied issues ranging from politics to social challenges to films are jubilantly using the medium effectively. In India, during last few years, twitter has emerged as a medium of expression for many people who are keen to express opinions almost on any and every issue. Meanwhile, various so-called celebrities are found offering kneejerk reaction to various events.  Probably, few are using this medium to remain ‘relevant’ into the society.


In any flourishing democratic society there cannot be an embargo for expression of opinion and views. However, it has been observed that mostly the perceptions of uninformed individuals are expressing opinions in public forum and are creating unwanted fissures in society. Quiet often, various tweeted views are found being expressed without giving much of a thought to it. Also, there is an ‘itch’ to respond to every situation immediately after its occurrence without realising the possible consequences. Unfortunately, some people probably do fall to the hidden pressure of their twitter followers too, who actually are unnecessarily keen to their views on a particular issue. Many a times mostly the tongue-in-cheek comments which are actually meant to be made in a small group over a cup of tea are finding place on the cyber space as a tweet for all to read. Thus, private becomes public which ultimately become uncalled ruckus.


To flaunt and make one’s twitter-handle popular is becoming a prestige symbol for cyber-elites in India! Number of followers to one’s twitter account is getting regarded as a tool to measure the popularity of that individual. Naturally, there have been cases where manipulations are done to show the inflated figures of such followers just to ‘demonstrate’ one’s popularity. The problem which India faces today is not about increase in the number of tweets everyday but the unnecessary ‘dissection’ of those tweets done by many. Regrettably, no one is ready to give any benefit of doubt to the person who neither tweets nor is ready to take those ‘140 words of wisdom’ figuratively. As long as the tweets are being absorbed or if necessitated being laughed on and if required, being forgotten then the twitter remains a simple model expression. However, the problem is that various tweets are being accepted and reacted upon extremely seriously, even more seriously than the person who has actually tweeted it!


Making a judgement and forming a final opinion based on a tweet is probably incorrect way of opinion making. Unfortunately, in Indian context particularly the electronic media is blindly following the social media debates and are creating a ‘story’ from such 140 words limit (in Twitter) debates. There is a high potential that such debates could be intelligently manipulated. This is an extremely dangerous trend and could even impact the national security on specific occasions. 


In India electronic media has emerged as the biggest opinion. It is obvious that this 24x7 commercial media (privately owned by corporate) claiming national media would always be in a lookout for a ‘news story’. Instead of making journalistic efforts for an actual story they are finding an easy way out and creating a story from various tweets. Such stories may be bringing more Target Rating Points (TRPs) to the private TV channels but are also shaping public opinions inappropriately. It is extremely important for electronic media houses to make mature judgements on journalistic ethics before making a story from some inconsequential and at times provocative tweets.


Tweeting on anything and everything has become a fashion of the day for many politicians, film stars, sports stars, media Mughals and social butterflies. There have been some unconfirmed reports that some ‘celebrities’ with major fan following offer their services at a cost to tweet about an event or individual. Similarly, there had been some incidences of questions raised in the parliament for a cost in the past. In future, it just cannot be guaranteed that that views expressed on social media are unbiased views. The problem is that it is very difficult to differentiate between a paid tweet and a genuine opinion. Also, there exists a possibility that social media could be effectively be manipulated by terror and anti-national organizations or also by fringe elements within and beyond India's boundary. There exists a possibility that Indian electronic media which depends largely on the social media for daily ‘package’ generation could get manipulated as a carrier for information warfare without even realizing it.


Twitter is an inescapable reality for a liberal and democratic society. This tool has a strength of even building revolutions (remember Arab Spring). But at the same time if it is not used judiciously then it can turn into a monster. In India, it is important for high, mighty, famous and influential people to realise that we respect their opinion, only if they are expressed on the subject of their competence. Otherwise, the less they tweet, the happier and safer the society would be. 

Author Note
The author is New Delhi based strategic analyst