The Politics Of Social Media

reempting the media has always been a big issue for every government in this world. This is because, giving the public the exact facts and the true nature of the details might just harm the government’s term in office. The media is an extremely effective and powerful tool and can soar someone’s popularity while at the same depose others from their thrones. Making everything public therefore has a lot of cons for politicians, businessmen, actors and business corporations, and this is why everyone places a lot of weight to everything demonstrated in all forms of media.

In the past censorship has been an extremely prominent issue. During the World War II and also during the Vietnam War, American and other Western powers had violently fudged with the true accounts of the wars. Figures had been manipulated and casualties under-estimated to make sure the public does not know about the horrible accounts of the war. Doing so would have polarized the situation at home and the families of the soldiers would have mounted pressures that would have breached their ‘national interests’. It was therefore considered better to hide everything from the general public.

Fast forwarding onto the 21st century, in today’s Information Age, it has become impossible to keep most of the information concealed in files and conversations. We have hackers adept at breaking through every security system in this world (makes me wonder whether security systems are made to be breached) and journalists who are eager to breach all sorts of protocol and hack into phone conversations (News of the World anyone?). But the power of the media has become truly manifested today through an extremely unorthodox yet revolutionary form.

Introducing: the social media. The Internet Age, along with a lot of pornography sites to destroy today’s teenagers, has also forged a powerful new tool called the social media. In this form of media it is impossible to keep any information hidden. No matter how censored the figures are or how much propaganda there is, a photo or a video taken through a cell-phone is enough to spread the issue into the social media and cause ripples across the globe. It is simply not possible for any government to keep any of its wrongdoings hidden and silenced due to this ubiquitous new revolution. ‘Time will open every hidden treasure’—-as the cliché goes, is really true for social media.

And this is why governments all across the globe are enraged at this tool. In fact they have a very good reason to be. Like for instance, if you haven’t been hibernating for the past few years you will have known that the Arab Uprising has been attributed mainly due to the existence of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and the blogging world. In this virtual new Universe people are constantly sharing their opinions and ideas, and protesting at any occurrences which shake their conscience. And the result has therefore been revolutionary. The protesters organized themselves and recruited others sharing their cause, and together they created the largest wall ever: the People’s Wall. Whether it was the Arab Spring or the Occupy Wall Street Movement, people have truly been able to show the power they can yield if they are brought together under one roof. And a lot of credit goes to the social media sites for playing such an impeccable role in creating the People’s Wall.

Therefore the guillotine has been on social media for quite some time. As opposed to terms like ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘democracy’, many governments have implemented censorship on the social media. And the social networking sites, to help themselves do business with more comfy, have also decided to censor every thread or comment and are always deleting anything even remotely associated with ‘inspiring revolt’. In Egypt during the uprising, while the opposition leaders were hiding in caves, normal citizens, both males and females, were all abuzz on Twitter calling for protesters to organize and demonstrate at the required places. As a result bloggers like Mona Eltahaway were arrested for ‘inspiring violence’ while Facebook and Twitter were shut down temporarily to stop protesters from coordinating together before the regime finally came to an end.

Seeing what the social media has done in Egypt, neighboring dictators adorned all their alarms against the social networking sites. Bahrain has placed several bloggers under arrest for trying to demonstrate and recruit, and the military has crushed any opposition firmly. The famous Bahraini blogger, activist and human rights defender Zainab al-Khawaja(Angry Arabia) was arrested and detained when she staged an anti-government protest against the royal family. Another activist popularly known as ‘the Bahraini blogger’ has been sentenced to a lifetime imprisonment for ‘trying to inspire sectarian conflicts’ through his protestations.

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where an 80-something King rules an economy with an average age of 19(yeah that is one big irony!) the thrashing has been more violent. A Saudi journalist who tweeted his misgivings about the Prophet on Eid-e-Miladunnabi was arrested by the Malaysian government in a Malaysian airport and extradited to Riyadh when he had tried to escape to New Zealand via Malaysia after receiving death threats in response to his tweet. Given the ancient state of laws in the Kingdom, which ironically is one of the wealthiest countries of the world, such apostasy will lead to a severe death sentence by the conservative Saudi court where the man will be beheaded in public. Armed with this tool of blasphemy, the Saudi Royalty and the pro-government religious leaders asked the religious Saudis to abandon Facebook and Twitter because they directly destroyed the Kingdom’s segregation and ‘Islamic customs’.

Tweeting to create a revolution!

However, along with such propagation of information the social media is also always abuzz with all forms of irreverence. The Internet is flooded with Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian sites. The aforementioned Saudi journalist should have known better than to tweet about his personal feelings about an issue that is likely to hurt the feelings of many others. After all, in a democratic country or not, this is what a responsible citizen should have done. And this man’s profession is supposed to be one of responsibility. Not of impiety.

Another Middle-Eastern scandal occurred when a female Egyptian blogger posed nude ‘to support her cause’ against the military. The girl, who calls herself an atheist, dubbed her action as appropriate ‘to ensure women’s rights and women’s struggle against the regimen’. Now, these are things that are horrendous for a conservative culture like that of the Middle-East and therefore attracted a lot of distaste from many societies. In short, ranting about rights is equal but people must know where to draw the line. I personally think this was simply a publicity stunt the girl undertook to make herself famous worldwide and increase her blog traffic!

I should also like to attract my reader’s attention to a recent event in Bangladesh which had caused quite a stir not in the traditional media, but in the social media. A professor who had wished for the country’s premier’s death on his facebook status was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. Although most of you here will rant about this being a consummate breach of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of speech’ in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh I will firmly disagree with you. Wishing someone’s death in public is not how a responsible citizen should behave no matter how much hatred you have for him or her. In a democracy people are supposed to learn to be responsible by themselves. Unlike a dictatorship you will not be forced to restraint yourself as much as possible. And this is our country’s prime minister we are talking about. The person might not necessarily be a paradigm of excellence but she is all we have. If we desire a change we should go forth and create a space for our ownselves, and not be a coward and wish the person to die. Most importantly I was awestruck that the status came from a professor, a person towards whom people look forward to and appreciate. Such irresponsibility should not be allowed to persist in the society.

Sharing is caring!

It feels quite weird when I think about the persistent role of social media in our everyday lives. And this is why propaganda has entered the virtual Universe as well. But no matter where we are or how advanced, manipulated, infiltrated and tainted by disgust this area becomes it is our responsibility to discern the good from the bad and allow the free flow of truth and justice to perpetrate. It is easy to be filled by propaganda but I should say that social media is one of the most wonderful inventions of the 21st century.

As an ending note I should like to add a quote I came across recently:

“… you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone, I don’t care what color you are, as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

—-Malcolm X

The writer is an active participant at The Stream. This is a live,interactive,award-winning political show of Al Jazeera English(yup he is that nerd!) where viewers can participate through the Internet.In case you are nerd enough like him you might like to join in this program.

The woes of relocating

My mother often reminisces about how she had been born, brought up and married off from the same house—–a mansion built by my grandfather before my mom was born. I often wondered why she talked about her home so much. I mean it is just another inanimate object, isn’t it? It was built and furnished by human beings to provide shelter and security to its users and to be disposed off when it had grown old so as to build a newer one in its place. It seemed pointless to me when she talked about how warm her home was, compared to our current concrete-clad jungle in this city and how welcoming it has always been for her. Although I did not possess the guts to tell this over her mouth, such emotions felt useless to me when there were more important things in this world to think about.

My parents never owned their own home in Dhaka. As a result my childhood was spent in different homes in different regions of the city. I was born in Feni, a tiny town of South-eastern Bangladesh, which also happens to be my home district  in my maternal grandparents’ house (My maternal grandfather was a doctor so my parents could afford that privilege) and then raised up in new Dhaka. And since my parents did not own a home in the capital city, it always involved a lot of moving. Due to this I have never been able to attach my memories to one place only. In fact I never really cared about my home because I had moved so much throughout the 19 years of my life that I had not been able to form any particular bonds with one place.

However this month when I moved for the umpteenth time, strangely I had this feeling of nostalgia and yearning for the flat I had called home for the past six years. I did not know what it was and why it was but something was beckoning me towards the home in which I have had the most important six years of my short life. Six years! Quite a long time; particularly because I have not spent so long in any place throughout my entire life. And when I looked back at all those years of laughter, joy and discontent over the size of the flat, I realized that man can form relationships with non-living things even without his knowledge. I had actually detested that house at first due to its small size but after having adapted to it and adjusting to its ways I was something along the lines of okay. It was going all smooth and well when all of a sudden the landlord decided that he could earn more money by renting the flat out to an office for which we were given the notice to be off for good. I do not know whether you will term this as cruelty or not but it was nothing really. For people like us who own no home of their own greed from the landlords is not an uncommon thing to be subjected to. And my parents and I did not complain either because we had lived in one place for too long and a change maybe was for the better.

And thus the preparations began. My parents rented into a new house with bigger rooms and started all the packaging and moving. I joined them as well and assisted them as much as I could but was restrained from all the excitement by my exams. Little did I know that I was going to feel disheartened afterwards because of an unknown, undefinable thing which I cannot attribute to anything at all.

On the final day when everything had been moved out and there was not much left to be taken I took on my personal belongings and got dressed. I looked at the ancient window and stared out at the dark night looming ahead. I recalled thousands of memories—-memories which will overflow even Dumbledore‘s Pensieve —-about winter nights I had spent dreaming about life while staring out through those windows and rainy nights that had unsuccessfully tried to elicit the poet inside me. I reminisced the story that my life has written with this cozy little flat and wondered whether I will ever be able to go through them again. It was as if I was losing a very dear friend.

I know I am sounding quite mawkish and trying to serenade feelings I can never explain properly but it felt truly unlike I had ever predicted or thought it would. My life probably is not attached to any particular home but maybe the home has a special place in my life’s story. If I start writing my autobiography tonight maybe it will hold a very prominent position.

I took one last look at my room. I gaped at the ceiling and the rectangular edges and tried to take my memories with me, but alas! Memories are weird. You can’t snatch them out of their rightful place.

I locked off the door and took the very last look at the building before giving the keys to the caretaker. In the end I believe life goes on and you have to travel with it. You can’t go back or forth in time, in spite of what physicists say. You have only way and that is the way forward. There are new neighborhoods waiting to be explored, new traditions to be merged into my life and new adventures awaiting me. In the end I guess I will have to let everything go and adjust myself to my new life.

 “And tell me, people of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?

Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?

Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?

Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?

Tell me, have you these in your houses?

Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and becomes a host, and then a master?”

———–Houses chapter IX (Khalil Gibran)