Social media, where ignorance is celebrated

Then on some days, I seethe with rage when ignorance is celebrated.


Anamika Chatterjee

Published: Mon 25 Jan 2021, 11:23 PM

When you want to live in darkness, ignorance feels blissful. And what better place to revel in that darkness than social media? It allows anonymity and intangibility that can make us gloat even when we have erred. And gloat, we do. Today, we have influencers — born and raised on Twitter — whose words carry weight simply because they have managed to acquire considerable following. The ability to hold your attention through tweets and posts have earned them an important place in the social media hierarchy. The fragility of such stardom becomes evident when ignorance, combined with arrogance, passes off as something vital. A recent episode — albeit, not of epic proportions — made me wonder why we so easily reconcile with inferior judgement.

Recently, a portrait of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was unveiled by the Indian President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan to mark the freedom fighter’s birth anniversary. Almost as soon as the news made its way to social media, some alleged that the said portrait wasn’t of Netaji’s but Bengali actor Prosenjit’s who’d played him in a biopic a few years ago. Bose’s family ultimately gave a statement that the portrait was based on an original photograph.

The friendliest piece of advice I receive from well-intentioned friends is this: don’t take anything happening on social media seriously. On most days, I do manage to avoid it altogether. Then on some days, I seethe with rage when ignorance is celebrated. It was one of those days.

No, it cannot be a crime to spot a mistake when there are none, but chest-thumping while doing so is cringe-worthy. In which world is mistaking a national hero for an actor clever? In which world does a beard become the connect between two men belonging to two different eras? In a universe hungry for memes, unintelligence cannot pass off as wisdom. And yet, contrarianism will find many takers, and misplaced arguments will be produced…and reproduced from time to time.

This mass production and reproduction of ignorance, however, will need to be called out, simply because today’s consumers are not only relying on newspapers and news websites to consume information; many of them are on social media to think, rethink and absorb perspectives. An influencer with a following but no intellectual heft can easily shape conversation with half-truths and false equivalences.

Think about the world we inhabited before social media came to our lives. That world demanded more out of us. The armchair comfort of social media is also allowing us to make a virtue out of our ignorance. This might be self-assuring but also incredibly damaging. It does not help us when we do not feel we owe it to ourselves — and others — to know better before we set out to make our views public. It enables a skewed vision, which then gets reproduced simply because of the dramatic quotient.

In an ideal world, this incident would have inspired laughter only because you cannot mistake Ben Kingsley for Mahatma Gandhi. In the age of digital empowerment, it inspires worry. Because armed with a Twitter handle and a Facebook account, it’s easy to be ‘dramatic’ and ‘fun’ and acquire a following. But your digital cult has to offer something more substantial than unverified, toothless statements. It has to embrace light.


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