Watch Your Tweet, Minister

Published: November 17, 2014 - 16:37

Cyberspace has yielded a novel way for the citizenry to hold politicians accountable for their contradictory stances and failed promises

Shazia Nigar Delhi 

There was a time when the saying, “public memory is short-lived” could stand the test of time. In the past, fuelled by the media, tall promises made by politicians would dominate the mind space of the public for a while and then fizzle out. More than lack of public will, it was the absence of a channel for demanding answers and holding politicians accountable that led to this. With the advent of social media and a platform for the public to vent its frustrations, this is fast changing. Take the example of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Twitter handle.

When in September this year he became the second most followed leader on Twitter after Barack Obama, Modi probably didn’t expect this popularity to be a cause for embarrassment. However, after the Supreme Court rapped the government on its dilly-dallying in revealing the list of black money account holders abroad, Twitteratis took to trolling the Prime Minister’s personal and official Twitter handle. One question was ringing throughout, “Where are my 15 lakhs sir?”, while #BhagodiBJP was trending through the day.

It all started when the PM sent out a greeting for Chhath Puja from his official handle. In response, he received queries regarding his campaign promise of bringing back black money and depositing Rs`15 lakh out of that in the bank account of every Indian.

His Chhath Puja tweet was followed by a tweet sending best wishes to the people of Turkey on their National Day and expressing a commitment to developing stronger ties with them. This too met with the same fate.

It is not just the PM who is being watched closely. Arun Jaitley, the Defence and Finance Minister, was also hauled up recently for his hypocritical stance on the CAG.

While in opposition, Jaitley had lauded the work done by the CAG, which had exposed corruption during the UPA government. Now that he is in power, his stance on the auditing body has changed and people have noticed. The thing about cyberspace is that posts stay on timelines, images and videos are widely circulated and can be traced with negligible effort. In Jaitley’s case, images of his previous statements dating back to the UPA government were immediately pulled out and contrasted with his present stance on the CAG. Social media is a repository of public memory and it does not come with a limited life span. 

Tim Cooks up a gay storm on Twitter

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has been trending on Twitter this week. Tim’s surge in social media popularity was not brought about because of the launch of a new Apple product but because of a public announcement about his sexuality. In an article written for Bloomsberg Businessweek on October 30, titled, “Tim Cook Speaks Up”, he wrote, “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

This announcement led to #TimCook and #TimCookSpeaksUp trending on Twitter. Most tweeters expressed admiration for his courage and extended their solidarity. In support, the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, tweeted, “From one son of the South and sports fanatic to another, my hat’s off to you, @Tim_cook.” Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat leader from the States, also lauded Cook for his announcement. However, there were also a few predictable haters and trolls. In turn, many tweeters were quick to respond to the displays of homophobia with humour.

Indians too took a keen interest and displayed reactions ranging from admiration to deep-seated prejudice. Media biggie Vikram Chandra’s tweet said, “I wonder how the #TimCook announcement will affect attitudes to homosexuality? His company is regarded as super cool.” Other Indian tweeters expressed admiration, solidarity as well as prejudice. The twitter handle @Kaalateetham, revealing a deep-seated prejudice against homosexuality in India, compared Cook’s announcement to a thief being proud of cheating. His tweet said, ‘So next ppl will say, “ I am a thief, cheat & i am proud of it” #TimCook #Apple’.

Other tweeters were quick to point out that this analogy doesn’t quite stand on its own and critiqued such displays of homophobia. @bprerna wrote with sarcasm, ‘People mocking #TimCook for his “Proud to Be Gay” statement & saying what’s special about being Gay? YOU. That Gays have to put up with YOU”.

Interestingly, even those who appreciated Cook’s announcement raised interesting questions about his white privilege and the rights of other minorities within Apple. @brianragsdale tweeted, ‘#timcookspeaksup good start but uncomfortable with globalization of “minority” downplays his white privilege. Will #apple hire more blks?’

Cook’s ‘coming out”— a phrase he himself did not use but was attributed to his announcement by others on Twitter— also led to another nuanced debate about the problems with the phrase, even if within the constraints of 140 characters. While some felt that “coming out” was an appropriate term, given the difficulties a gay man openly faces, others argued that it implied that being gay is something that needs to be hidden. As is with Twitter, though, there is no resolution to this debate. Not as this goes to print at least.  


Cyberspace has yielded a novel way for the citizenry to hold politicians accountable for their contradictory stances and failed promises
Shazia Nigar Delhi 

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This story is from print issue of HardNews