There is so much unkindness on Twitter.
A couple of days ago, a friend who works in a field that specialises in a comprehensive and data-based study of national, regional and international issues and formation of game-changing narratives and trends commented, “Lately, Twitter has become such an ugly place.” And while I still believe in the power of goodness to be of more potency than negativity, most of the time, his comment made me retake a look at Pakistan’s Twitter.
What I found in abundance: the dominant texture of the majority’s partisan posts, the overwhelming rudeness, the blatant whataboutery, the gratuitous cruelty that any person who still holds the values of decency and niceness as sublime human traits find increasingly difficult to ignore. Twitter is full of sweetness and warmth and encouragement and solidarity, but the most noticeable aspect of today’s Twitter, in Pakistan, in the region, and globally, is its stifling toxicity.
What is of unquantifiable significance: Twitter highlights many serious issues ignored by the traditional media. Injustices, major and minor, are mainstreamed. The voiceless gets an unfiltered platform. And that is when the real problem starts. Self-serving agendas trump the earnest quest for justice. Point scoring and finger pointing replace the sincerity to seek the truth. Vested interests push the real victims to a side. The fight for justice becomes a personal and/or political bout of mud wrestling.
My Twitter woes are aplenty but the reason why I am writing today is not to indulge in self-pity. It is not that I have developed what the wise say is an essential item for continuous existence on Twitter: a thick skin. Invariably, people’s awful comments bother me, unkindness saddens me, vicious attacks make me wonder why so many people have a simmering darkness covered under a tissue paper thin façade of civility. The attacks on me are unvarying despite my absolute adherence to certain rules: never use bad language, never attack anyone’s faith or ethnicity or nationality, never become personal in my criticism of someone’s political or any other view, never use derogatory words for even those whose views I find personally loathsome.
Because of my unwavering support of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf since 2012, hating me is a favourite pastime of countless people who happen to be the supporters of other political parties or who simply hate Imran Khan. I get trolled for the most innocuous of posts. If I were to say my name is Mehr, there would be an ad hominem attack on my character, integrity, credentials, the colour of the sky that day, the dog I love, the font I use.
But I digress. The hate I get is virtual. In comparison to the endless warmth that is sent to me by complete strangers, the wonderful friendships that I have formed via Twitter, and the daily positivity that my Twitter buddies and followers send me more than make up for the toxicity in my notifications. One of the most recent examples of Twitter’s sweetness was the outpouring of love and prayers from Pakistanis and Indians when I posted a wish for my son on his 21st birthday on January 26. Deeply moved, once again I was reminded of the beautiful positivity of the social media in its universality of emotions that unite us despite our differences.
And I digress again. Two days ago, my friend commented on a recent incident of a video of two female employers’ language-shaming of an employee going viral in Pakistan. The immediate backlash was expected. Mockery of a person weaker in any form is terrible and unkind, and making a video of that even more so. The outrage on the awfulness should have remained focused on the incident, making it an example for all of us not to be cruel on or off camera. But like many other things on Twitter, it soon mushroomed into something larger. And darker.
Thousands of posts against the two women appeared on Twitter and other social media platforms. TV channels picked it up. Hashtags to ban their restaurant gained traction. An Urdu mushaira was held outside the venue where the “elitist” video had been made. Everyone became the judge of morality and equality and pride in national language. For days, the two women–who should have never mocked an employee and then uploaded the video on social media (immediately removed)–were the sole topic of censure on the Twitter of a country where bigger and graver issues affect the lives of millions of people on a minute-to-minute basis.
Raising your voice against an awful act is commendable, and so is the demand for an apology or/and verbal or other reparation. What is unacceptable is to take a horrid action and turn it into an intensive campaign to cast ironclad aspersions on the personal and professional ethos of people you have never had a real interaction with. That is going much too far. And unkind.
The examples of unkindness abound. One of the worst demonstrations a few weeks ago was the creation and viralling of the two trends against the leader, female of course, of a political party and Pakistan’s first lady. The sheer viciousness of the misogyny of the hashtags, used, enabled and promoted by both male and female supporters of the two sides, unleashed the lack of forbearance that has become the hallmark of political discourses in the age of social media.
It is baffling. The same people who on Twitter take pride in the use of abusive language to make a point, who slut-shame to silence a female whose ideas they find disagreeable, who tweet-lynch a person for a post against the leader of the party they support are perfectly normal off Twitter. So much anger and ugliness and noxiousness in tweets that it makes you wonder what happened to them that made them so dark in their 280-lettered articulation on a medium whose raison d’etre is unification of humanity in its most positive forms.
Follow news and opinions; virtual interaction within and beyond borders; follow the work of leaders, organisations and/or people you admire; and formation of virtual bonds and real friendships, Twitter is that and much more. Twitter is also a platform on which you make a fundamental agreement with yourself to agree to disagree. Without the use of bad language. Without unkindness. Without making basic kindness a shibboleth.
There is so much to say, some other time. Twitter that is exploited for dissemination of fake news and propaganda, where sensationalism pushes the truth off the podium, in which false narratives are constructed to destroy reputations, lives, political parties, countries, peace of mind, destinies, dreams.