India has a long history of having a thriving and free press, but in recent years, while journalistic ethics have declined and hostile media environments have increased. The most marginalized communities in India have found it challenging to be heard because of this. Social media, on the other hand, has become a potent instrument for these communities to voice their opinions.
The voices of India’s most marginalized groups, such as Dalits, Adivasis, and LGBTQ+ communities, have found a home on digital media. They build a virtual network of support and solidarity through social media to share their problems, experiences, and tales. They now have a voice on social media that was previously unheard by traditional media.
Mainstream Media’s Impact on Democratic Culture
In the last nine years mainstream media has been increasingly corporatized. This has led to narrative based news reporting by the mainstream news channels. These narratives are set keeping in mind the interests of the government and the corporates supporting the government. No longer objective news reporting is the norm, it is an exception. News anchors and journalists these days focus on potraying news in a manner that can provide best possible outcome for the government. The biased portrayal of news in favor of the Modi government has several harmful implications for the democratic culture of India.
- Erosion of Trust: Trust is being eroded as a result of a biased media, which causes mistrust and cynicism towards all news sources. An uneducated populace can be the outcome of this distrust, which is bad for a functioning democracy.
- Suppression of Dissent: A biased media stifles dissent and suppresses important debates on important subjects by underreporting or dismissing alternative voices and critical viewpoints. As a result, individuals are deprived of a thorough grasp of the many policy options, which weakens the democratic process.
- Polarization and Division: Biased media coverage, which frequently fosters divisive narratives and encourages a “we against them” mindset, can lead to the polarisation of society. Increased tensions and societal unrest may result from this, further undermining the country’s democracy.
- Consolidation of Power: Media bias in favor of the government can contribute to the consolidation of power in the hands of a single party or individual. This can diminish the role of checks and balances and weaken the democratic foundations of the country.
Bridging the Gap: Social Media as a Tool for Empowerment
While mainstream media has often been criticized for its lack of representation and biased coverage, social media platforms have offered a more inclusive space for marginalized communities. Some ways in which social media is empowering these communities include:
- Amplifying Voices: Social media platforms give people from disadvantaged groups the chance to express their stories, viewpoints, and personal experiences. This aids in creating empathy and compassion while also increasing knowledge of the difficulties people confront.
- Creating Communities: Social media enables people from many backgrounds to interact, work together, and create strong networks. For excluded groups, which frequently experience discrimination and social exclusion, a strong feeling of community is especially crucial.
- Activating Support: Social media may be used to energise support for a variety of causes and initiatives, attracting the public’s and decision-makers’ attention. Legislation, regulations, and society attitudes may alter as a result.
- Defeating Stereotypes: By giving marginalised populations a forum for free discussion, social media empowers them to dispel the myths and assumptions that support prejudice and discrimination.
Examples of Social Media Empowerment
- Dalit Women Fight: A group of Dalit women who utilise social media to spread the word about gender inequality, caste-based violence, and other issues in India. Several Dalit women now have a forum to speak out about the injustices they endure because to their internet presence.
- The Queer Muslim Project is an online campaign that aims to give LGBTQ+ Muslims in India a place to feel secure. They encourage tolerance and acceptance within the Muslim community through the sharing of experiences, the organisation of events, and the sharing of information on social media.
- Adivasi Lives Matter: This online forum highlights concerns pertaining to land rights, eviction, and cultural preservation while amplifying the voices of India’s Adivasi community. They have been able to campaign for legislative changes and draw attention to these important issues by utilising social media.
- #MeToo movement: Social media was essential to the #MeToo movement in amplifying the voices of those who had experienced sexual harassment and assault, regardless of their location or social standing. Many experiences from oppressed groups, such as Dalits, Muslims, and LGBTQ+ people—who frequently experience extra layers of prejudice and exclusion—were brought to light by the #MeToo movement.
- The Farmers’ movement against the Modi government’s move to put farmlands under corporate control was largely driven by social media.
Probably this is also the reason why India ranks at the top in the list of countries that shutdown internet for various reasons. According to a study released by Access Now, a New York-based advocacy group that keeps track of internet freedom, 84 of the 187 internet shutdowns reported globally occurred in India. According to the group, India, which has a population of more than 1.3 billion, has topped the list for the fifth year in a row. This raises questions about India’s commitment to internet freedom under the current Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration, which is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
For social media to be able to help the marginalized communities, internet freedom is vital. Maintainance of internet freedom is the biggest challenge in an India where majoritarianism is on the rise. India may stay as a democracy as per rule books. But if the only medium through which opinions and views are expressed freely is curtailed, misinformation and propaganda will overwhelm the masses. That will ensure the demise of world’s largest democracy.
Social media gives underprivileged populations of the opportunity to tell their own stories, which is one of its most important advantages. They don’t have to rely on others to tell their tales for them; instead, they may communicate their memories and experiences in their own words. The mainstream media’s perpetuation of preconceptions and prejudice has been aided by this in dismantling them.
Networks of solidarity have also been forged thanks to social media’s role in mobilizing underprivileged populations. As we approach the 2024 Lok Sabha election, the biggest democratic exercise in the world; it becomes imperative that those who are not being heard by the government exert pressure to make the government function with a more inclusive approach. Only the digital media can help in this regard. Social media is a tool that activists and advocates may use to plan demonstrations, rallies, and other activities. Social media campaigns have been effective in bringing attention to topics that traditional media has chosen to overlook.