Because You Talk and Walk Online : A TEDx talk by Dr. Ranjana Kumari

Our director, Dr Ranjana Kumari, was a speaker at a recently organized TEDx event conducted by Neerja Modi School, Jaipur. She gave a talk on the topic “Counter Speech- Because You Talk and Walk Online”

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“How many of you use Facebook? How many friends? It is amazing that it took 1760 years from clay print to actual print. But the past 43 years has seen exponential growth of technology, a quantum jump. Technology has moved civilization to the next phase. We didn’t know that by having one close friend, or a few neighbourhood friends, we will have 500 friends online! I have heard of youngsters having 3000 friends. You may be someone very shy, but you have a space to be friends with people you don’t speak to, and share your feelings, opinions, works of art, writings. You feel that because you are on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, where you connect with people.

As a human gender adviser in Geneva, I experienced an incident which I would like to share. There were two families, with two little daughters, who had both gone out somewhere separately to see some theater or a play. After coming back home, the families met, and the girls exchanged hellos and rushed back inside. The mothers later told me that they were busy chatting with each other! I was surprised and said ‘They just met!’ But their mothers said they were chatting online. So it made me realize that the face to face communication as we have known, is slowly fading. It isn’t so bad when it comes to the kind of lives today but it makes me wonder about what will happen 20/30 years from now.

The number of internet users in India is only 15% of the population, but we are 2nd in the world in terms of mobile users. We have 22 languages, 13 scripts, 720 dialects. Social Media has made us believe that we are all in a magical world, where we are all imagining that we are connected and reaching out. My office celebrated recently and told me ‘Mam you have 250k followers on Twitter. I said I don’t know who these people are, and why are they following me, what have I done’. You start connecting, without realizing that perhaps what you are connecting with is not real, but virtual. Virtual is the new reality, it is coming up but it seems that social media is a form of extreme alienation. It has become a big issue to get the right number of likes. If not many people have liked a particular picture or status, people get depressed!

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As a member of safety advisory board of Facebook, we fought for the change in the company’s emoticons. Because earlier, every was conditioned to like/dislike, whereas human emotions are numerous. Now of course there are a number of emotions which one can use to express in different situations.

All this has led to us forgetting a social discourse. It is not just about me, and people liking what I do or say. Important things are happening and we need to pay attention. We see condition of women, children, minorities- but this social media is all about “ourselves”. We are forgetting the whole idea of look, touch, feel, experience. Social media is making us think that it is our choice. It is like when we walk into a mall, we can only choose from things which are displayed. But these choices are made for you beforehand. Similarly, this is happening in social media space. In this process, we are forgetting social etiquette and social responsibility.

Incognito, you can impersonate anyone. Can say anything about people, abuses, accuses. On one hand, social media is building knowledge and connectivity but at the same time exposing you to an ugly, dirty, difficult world to deal with. 61% parents want to know what their children are up to online, who are they chatting with. One the other hand, 59% youngsters know how to hide themselves, and hide their activities from parents.

What is dangerous is the kind of speech which is getting generated. Politicians and social players are responsible. Nasty comments are made casually. In our organization, we stand for strong issues, and social causes, and we are targeted. People react and respond in a bad way to us. This speech generated on social media is unacceptable. Just like in real life when women face harassment, this is replicated in the form of inappropriate speech online.

At CSR, we are running a campaign #SocialSurfing, aimed at correcting bad speech and teaching “counter speech”. It is very important to generate this kind of counter speech, because not doing so will create this culture of violence online. The idea of counter speech is that when someone is using hate speech, you should know how to handle technology safely and effectively, and use it to your advantage. Just like in real life. Also if you want to create a real and better social discourse, you need to use the space effectively.

I would like to share an incident which occurred yesterday. The Deputy Commissioner of Police called me and said an American girl has travelled to Delhi to meet her Facebook friend from Himachal, who was supposed to receive her and travel across India. She is now here at the airport, what do we do with her. I suggested that you can send her to one of the snehalayas we run. But this girl, she has been talking to this boy, and he lured her into coming all the way to another country. And now this girl is alone and crying at the airport. The Facebook boyfriend disappeared! This is something you all need to be careful- who are you communicating with, what are you communicating about. It is very easy to get trapped into such things, and such cases are increasingly common. Social media companies are coming up with more and more privacy and safety settings, and it is important for you to go through them periodically. Who are your friends, who can see your pictures, what communities are you a part of. You don’t want the whole world to know you are at the beach or at a particular place. You have to create safe online conditions for yourself. It is a democratic space and must be used correctly.

One example which I would like to share here. All of you are aware that loads of families in our country don’t want girl children, and they abort female fetuses. This will change social and family relations in a very drastic way. We have been working on this cause for many years, and conducted Kanya Janm Mahotsavs were the baby girls were celebrated. The recent social media experiment of “Selfie with daughters”, led to so much positivity and awareness, which must be replicated for other causes.

You do have a social responsibility towards the country. One fourth of our population needs to be educated, one third is in poverty. There is gender discrimination and violence. Unless you want to move to the moon, you need to be responsible towards your country. Use the online space to discuss issues which matter to you, cleanliness, climate change, conditions of schools- anything.

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