Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Saffron Heads With Neutral Masks: Spreading Disharmony Through Social Media

in India — by T Navin — August 30, 2016

Noam Chomsky had coined the term ‘Manufacturing consent’ to refer to the role played by Media in creating system supportive propaganda function. The purpose of propaganda is to indoctrinate human minds to think in a particular manner through imposing necessary illusions. The five filters which enable this is through control of ownership of media owned by corporations, revenues of media being made dependent on funding through advertising, sourcing power centres acting as news feeders to media, Flak through adverse criticism of its supposed enemies and taking an anti communism stand thus creating fear of an enemy. The term was coined more in the context of mainstream media.
The role played by mainstream media thus results in ‘ideological hegemony’ and control of the economically rich and powerful political forces. It ensures that the economically poor, middle classes and less powerful are under the ideological influence of the rich consisting of corporations. While ideological hegemony is the reality, the only possibility to break it is through establishing ‘counter hegemony’ of the poor and less powerful through pro-poor ideologies which is possible only through an alternative media.
With the emergence of Social Media, a part of this function of manufacturing consent has also been taken over by blogs associated with Social media. Face book blogs, Whatsapp groups, cyber media have also emerged as new centres for ‘manufacturing consent’ in favour of a certain political and economic ideas. Social media has democratised spaces for carrying out ideological debates and discussions, which is necessary for human search for alternatives. Political groups of all hues left, right and centre use such spaces for expressing their viewpoints, ideas, and perspectives. The ideological warfare which happens in the external world also gets reflected in the Social media.
Establishing counter hegemony’ by breaking the cycle of ‘manufactured consent’ is a necessity for left and progressive ideologies. This is with the larger purpose to create a more humane society. However, Social media spaces are also occupied by right wing and reactionary elements which spread hatred and pose a threat to human progress, social development and results in disharmony among communities.
With BJP coming to power, a lot of Facebook blogs and websites emerged to establish their ideological hegemony’ in favour of Hindutva . Some of these openly declare their allegiance to saffron ideology through fanclubs. Such fanclubs exist in the name of prime minister through groups such as ‘I support Narendra Modi’, ‘Narendra Modi fan club’, ‘Our PM Narendra Modi’. Sometimes these exist in the name of saffron leaning journalists such as ‘Rohit Sardana and Sudir Chaudhary fan club’, ‘Arnab Goswami against prestitutes’, ‘Arnab Goswami fans club’, ‘Arnab Goswami fans’, ‘I support zee news’, ‘zee news ke fans’ etc. These groups either openly declare their allegiance to the BJP regime and the saffron ideology or speak in favor of the right wing discourse. Thus they try to create consent among the public in favor of the Government.
There are also social media groups which claim to be neutral and standing against all forms of paid media. Though they operate under such banner, the content of their postings is highly in favor of themes generated by rightwing – which could be Saffron nationalists who pose as pure nationalists branding others as anti-nationals. Such groups exist in the name of groups such as ‘India against paid media, ‘Say no to sold media’. Considering secularism to be a bad idea, these saffron groups also operate blogs such as ‘Bengal against Sickularism’, ‘India against Sickularism’, ‘The Sickular Indian’ and attempt in ridiculing secularism etc.
These spaces are increasingly being utilized by right wing to create an atmosphere in favor of Hindutva. In this process, they also resort to distorting information, manipulating facts, misinterpreting it and usage of manipulation for presenting the facts. The usage of Photoshopped images and doctored videos have become common. The examples in the recent past show the negative role of hindutva forces in social media. These include: a) JNU being propagated as a centre for anti-national activities through an anti-JNU campaign; b) Khairana in Uttar Pradesh being propagated as a place where Hindus are migrating due to threat from Muslims; c) Kashmiri upsurge being attributed to external hand, rather than making people think about genuine kashmiri concerns; d) individuals with secular outlook being targeted for their stand against communal approach of Saffron parivar; e) intellectual sections such as writers being declared as anti-nationals and thus requiring cleansing prayers for cleaning their minds; f) actors from minority communities such as Amir Khan and Shahrukh Khan being targeted for statements on intolerance; g) propagation of beef issue resulting in incidents of violence. The role played by hindutva forces has resulted in disharmony, violence and hatred in the name of petty religious issues. This poses a danger.
Chomsky’s filter can be applied to understand the roles played by Saffron leaning social media blogs to create propaganda in favour of Hindutva. These entities which claim to be neutral under the banner of ‘India against paid media’, ‘Say no to paid media’, ‘India against Prestitutes’ are owned by political groups leaning towards BJP. In terms of their funding they either receive funding support either through right wing leaning political groups or individuals. The sources of news of these are either through rightwing leaning individuals, saffron institutions (RSS, VHP, BJP, ABVP, BJP) or saffron sympathizers. They resort to flak and heavy criticism of its enemies which could be political parties (Congress, AAP, Left), political leaders (Rahul Gandhi, Kejriwal, Kanhaiah), ideologues and intellectuals (left, liberal), nations (Pakistan, China), journalists (Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep, Ravish) etc. They create a fear through heavy propaganda of ‘India under threat’ through Islamic terrorism, Maoists, Kashmiri militants etc. While this may still be fine, the danger is the disharmony it creates in society.
Such social media blogs, in the name of neutral media are only representatives of a highly reactionary right wing ideology. They can only be termed as Saffron heads with Neutral Masks. These are emerging as the representatives of the ruling party to ‘manufacture consent’ in favor of the party in power and Hindutva ideas. This poses a danger which needs to be exposed through establishing counter hegemony’ by left, democratic, secular and progressive forces.
(About the Author: T. Navin works with an NGO as a Researcher. He did his M.Phil from Jawaharlal Nehru University).

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