Ranjona Banerji: How kneejerk reactions on social media can be and are dangerous

15 Jun,2018

By Ranjona Banerji


The power of social media: the voice of the people is the voice of God or the supposed voice of the people is the voice of the mob?

Quantico, the now-cancelled series on FBI recruits, airs an episode where terrorists in Kashmir turn out to be Hindus. Actress (Actor?) Priyanka Chopra is the star of the show. Social media erupts with outrage because a few small incidents like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi aside, Hindus can never be terrorist types and anyway what’s to say that Gandhi didn’t deserve what the great warrior Nathuram Godse did to him, right? After all, don’t some of our Hindu brethren worship Godse?

Anyway, let me not get distracted from this very absorbing and somewhat weird tale about the powerful court of public opinion on social media. Indians and patriotic “Hindus” were furious with Chopra for acting in this episode. Bad enough that she went and met the Rohingyas in real life but she also ACTED (I repeat, “acted”) in an episode that showed “Hindus” in a bad light. I write “Hindus” because I have no idea whether the Quantico storyline was about Indians versus Pakistanis or Hindus versus Pakistan, or the Hindutva rightwing idea of “Hindu”.

So ABC, which produces Quantico, said “sorry” and Chopra said “sorry”. But not before they were abused roundly by our outraged armchair Twitterists, who stand for ultra patriotism and all things Hindutva, while sitting down of course.




Maybe the outrage would have died down after this, but. Celebrity chef Atul Kochar jumped in with a tweet attacking Chopra for her lack of Indian/Hindu patriotism, since according to his stupendous knowledge of history, Islam had “terrorised” the world for 2000 years.

Kochar was then attacked by everyone. He apologised promptly. But it turns out he had forgotten that he worked in Dubai for the JW Marriott. As social media attacked Kochar for his clearly racist (not to mention ignorant) views, he immediately backtracked and said he was not an Islamophobe. Usually that is a dead giveaway. Also a tad unwise if you live and work in the Middle East and, by extending his own argument, make your living from people who could be terrorists by Kochar’s own definition.

Kochar in fact paid a very heavy price. The news cycle has turned from this so-called non-patriotism of Chopra to Chopra’s new boyfriend Nick Jonas. But Kochar has lost his job in Dubai. He miscalculated the power of social media and public opinion as expressed on social media. In some ways, his case is comparable to that of American comedian Roseanne Barr who lost a TV show based on a racist tweet.



While it is fascinating that instantly expressed public opinion on social media platforms can get instant results, it must raise questions for society in general. Kneejerk reactions can be and are dangerous. How far are we willing to tolerate mob rule whether on the streets or the internet? People make mistakes, even on Twitter. People will be scared to speak out, if virulent public opinion has this sort of a reaction. How will that affect us as journalists? Are there lines and where do we draw them? Do we need a justice system here, to determine the extent of offensiveness? At the very least we need comment from people who manage public opinion and in some cases even claim that we influence it: Us.


Meanwhile, there’s Twitter’s reactions to this video released by the Prime Minister of India. Enjoy. Or not. No judgment.




Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal



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