After reading the recent article in the New York Times on corruption in the IPL, I went over to Amit Varma’s blog, India Uncut, to see if he had any comments on Lalit Modi et al. I didn’t find anything right off, but instead a reference to yet another Twitter controversy that I’d missed, in this post.
A journalist with IBN Live, Sagarika Ghose, had posted a few Tweets (for example) lamenting that a group of what she called “Internet Hindus” had attacked her for comments she had made: “Internet Hindus are like swarms of bees. they come swarming after you at any mention of Modi Muslims or Pakistan!”
Other journalists have also picked up on the phrase. Here is an interesting column by Ashok Malik in the Hindustan Times that picks up on the critique. Amit also linked to a column by Kanchan Gupta defending the “Internet Hindus” here, along the lines of “screw the pseudo-secular MSM,” though I personally wasn’t all that impressed by the overblown rhetoric. (Call me an Internet Skeptic.)
Actually, Amit Varma’s own comments on the phenomenon of extremism on the internet seemed wisest to me:
If Ghose was, indeed, bothered by trolls, she would have done well to keep in mind the old jungle saying, ‘Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig enjoys it.’ The internet empowers loonies of all kinds by giving them a megaphone–but no one is forced to listen to them. The noise-to-signal ratio is way out of whack on the net (Sturgeon’s Law), and any smart internet veteran will tell you that to keep your sanity, you need to ignore the noise. Ghose, poor thing, had tried to engage with it.
We all know that people are more extreme on the net than they are in real life. The radical Hindutva dude who wants to nuke Pakistan on the net will, in the real world, sit meekly at Cafe Coffee Day arguing the relative merits of Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. (link)
Yes, exactly. Varma goes on to discuss Cass Sunstein’s recent study on “group polarization,” and has some thoughts on what that might mean for India-Pakistan relations. It’s worth reading the whole thing.
Meanwhile, here is my own humble contribution. There is indeed such a thing as an “Internet Hindu” — by which I mean, someone who expresses extreme views online while living a very moderate or even secular lifestyle in the real world. But there are also Internet Muslims, Internet Sikhs, Internet Christians, and Internet Marxsts — all of them potentially irksome if you say something they don’t like. Hindus do not have a monopoly on saying extremist things online.
I’m really not interested in having a discussion along the lines of “who are the worst offenders?” if it’s at all possible not to go down that route. (Pretty please?)
Rather, I would be curious as to whether we could use this as an opportunity to reflect on the issue of “group polarization” Varma mentions, and how and whether the habit of talking to people on the internet is a factor in magnifying differences. How have your own views and habits changed as a result of being on the internet, talking about issues related to the Indian subcontinent? What are some positive effects, and what are some negatives?