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Mind Your Language

Mind Your Language

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Published by Shiv Aroor
With political discourse on social media reduced to taunts and abuse, BJP's new guidelines aim to elevate the level of debate.
With political discourse on social media reduced to taunts and abuse, BJP's new guidelines aim to elevate the level of debate.

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Published by: Shiv Aroor on May 21, 2013
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08/12/2013

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O
n March 17, Amaresh Misra,a member of the Congressparty who describes himself as an author, historian, filmwriter and politician, went on one of his usual Twitter rampages. Lashingout at supporters of 
BJP
in 140-char-acter insults peppered with exple-tives, he tweeted at 12.50 a.m.:“@shilpitewari We know where youlive Shilpi.
 Zyada
pro-
BJP
baneeto tere saath vahee karenge jo Sanghihar*** ke saath karte hain
(If you acttoo pro-
BJP
, we will do with you whatshould be done to right-wing b****s).”The woman he threatened is anactive Twitter user from New Delhi. Asthe Internet bubbled in her support,there was a moment when ShilpiTewari was terrified her Web worldwould impinge on the real world.Misra’s conduct is an extremeexample of what Twitter exchangebetween supporters of India’s two lead-ing political parties often gets reducedto—some
BJP
supporters describe pro-Congress tweeters as ‘Congis’, journal-ists as ‘
dalal 
media’, anti-Modi voicesas ‘sickular’, and refer to Sonia Gandhias mythical demoness ‘Tadaka’. Thegeneral lowering of standards hascreated a hyper-sensitive and highlycharged Internet universe wheremeaningful dialogue has been over-taken by the rush for one-upmanship,often ending in personal abuse.Trolls on both sides of the fence,“volunteers” who are either encour-aged or on payrolls of the parties, huntin packs, attempting to tear down theopponent’s propaganda. These mobsusually get out of control, and debate isreduced to a level that threatens torender social media useless as a plat-form for serious political discourse. Worried about this emerging trend,
BJP
S
Information Technology Cell,which had a free run until Congress re-sponded in April with its own Twittercampaign, is taking the high moral gro-und by attempting to rein in its onlineactivists. On May 11, the cell’s nationalhead, Arvind Gupta, uploaded draft so-cial media guidelines meant for partyleaders, workers and supporters. In afirst-of-its-kind attempt at crowd-sour-cing, he asked
BJP
S
online brigade tosuggest changes, omissions, and addi-tions to the document. The final, re-fined version will be uploaded byMay-end after taking these suggestionsfrom the general public on board.The guidelines document is uniquebecause in it,
BJP
takes responsibilitynot just for its leaders and officials butalso for legions of supporters who maynot be directly associated with theparty. “
BJP
broadly recognises three lev-els of affiliation with the party,” the doc-ument says, “A.
BJP
office bearers; B.
BJP
party members; C.
BJP
supporters.”The document acknowledges thatwhile it is not possible to verify each in-dividual member and supporter, it en-courages them to adhere to the “Dosand Don’ts” listed in the guidelines.“Those who wish to claim affiliationwith the party must be mindful thattheir social media conduct reflects onthe party’s image, hence their conductin social media must exemplify the val-ues the party stands for,” the documentsays. “A healthy debate on various is-sues is encouraged as it promotes un-derstanding of various nuances andcomplexities of issues. However, debateshould ideally not become a ruse to un-necessarily tag people and/or result inbehaviour which can be construed ascyber bullying. The party cannot con-done behaviour on social media that isabusive and behaviour that is in viola-tion of the law,” it adds.
BJP
is hoping that the Congress willacknowledge this peace offering and re-spond with similar instructions to itsown support base. But Sanjay Jha, amember of the party’s new social mediacommittee and one of the architects of the #Feku campaign aimed at GujaratChief Minister Narendra Modi in re-sponse to the
BJP
S
#Pappu campaigntargeting Rahul Gandhi, says that
BJP
is merely trying to control a monster ithas itself created.“When it comes to political dialogue,social media has become a one-sidedplatform where there is a constantbombardment by
BJP
trolls whose only job is to attack Congress supporters,”says Jha. “It has made young people,whose political affiliations are fluid,look only at extreme positions. It’s givenrise to secular fundamentalists, trans-forming people who were otherwise lib-eral and open-minded into hardliners.”
S
peaking to
INDIATODAY
, Gupta,42, a University of Illinois alum-nus credited with organising the
BJP
’sonline following into a cohesive net-work, says it is high time political par-ties take the lead in making socialmedia debates cleaner and healthier:“The new draft guidelines will help usbetter engage with people on policymatters. When you’re leading the on-line political discourse ten to one interms of number of supporters, it isyour responsibility to ensure that dis-cussions remain healthy and the plat-form remains relevant. The issue isonly not about abuse, it’s about rais-ing the standards of the debate.”The guidelines are
BJP
S
way of showing that there is no official sanc-tion to the kind of language social me-dia discussions often degenerate to,and one of measures being consideredis banning anyone who does not followthe guidelines from using the partylogo in their display/profile pictures onTwitter and Facebook. “There isn’t toomuch we can do in terms of discipli-nary action but we’re asking our sup-porters a very simple question: Bybeing combative, or by not followingthe guidelines, are they actually help-ing the party?” A part of the problem, says Gupta, is
46
INDIA TODAY
May 27, 2013 May 27, 2013
INDIA TODAY
47
NATION
SOCIALMEDIA
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
With political discourse onsocial media reduced totaunts and abuse,BJP’s newguidelines aim to elevate thelevel of debate
By
Kunal Pradhan
HowCongressTrolls Attack
The ruling party’ssupporters have createdtheir own vocabulary totake down BJPtweeters
Sanghi
Anyone with even the slight-est affection for
BJP
/
VHP
/
RSS
/BajrangDal or against Congress.
Feku/FekuFauj/FekuFail
Narendra Modi originally,but now for anyone with apredisposition to brag about
BJP
leaders/achievements.
Hindutva Goon
Phrase to establishthat supporters of Congress are lessthuggish,more intellectual.
#BigJokeParty
An obviousand enduring expansion of
BJP
’.Used in tweets thatpoke fun at
BJP
gaffes.
#Toothache
Aday after theKarnataka results,Modi reportedlycancelled all public events becauseof a toothache.The word is nowa metaphor for anyone makingdisingenuous,cowardly excuses.
#FindingNaMo
Asense thatModi,extrapolated to
BJP
atlarge,hogs credit for thegood,and ducks responsibil-ity for the bad.
by Shiv Aroor 
IllustrationbySAURABHSINGH/www.indiatodayimages.com
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