IOS on-line lecture on Social Media and Marginalised Communities

New Delhi: An on-line lecture on “Social Media and Marginalised Communities” was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies on August 14, 2021. The lecture was delivered by Prof. Ehtesham Ahmad Khan, Dean, School of Mass Communication and Journalism, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.

Introducing the theme, senior journalist, Abdul Bari Masud, said that social media was an important platform of communication and a weapon to influence the users. It had become evident that the prominent way to reach out to young adults was through social media platforms. He observed that the social media influenced the decision making of the youngsters between the age of 16 and 25 years, who were going through quick changes in their lives as they were modeling their personality, developing self-esteem, and look for freedom and power in their lives. He noted that living in the digital era due to technological revolution, the youngsters had access to social media platforms. Referring to the disadvantages of social media, he said that it had many.

Delivering the lecture, Prof. Khan, observed that the social media was yet to reach out to the illiterates and the marginalised in today’s globalised world. Thus it raised the question of haves and have-nots; the question whether socially excluded sections were benefiting from the space created by the social media. He said that spurt in the usage of social media was evident during the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Social media platforms were used as a base for reaching the urban electorate. Its use heightened during the last parliamentary elections in 2019. Used since 2004, Facebook became the most popular platform for the users of social media. The Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor had been using twitter since 2009, and it became the most popular platform among those in high positions. He said that 70 crore people accounting for about 50 percent population, were using smartphones daily. Majority of the users of these phones were youngsters with men outnumbering women. Giving the figures of the social media users, he noted that while WhatsApp was being accessed by about 53 crore, the number of YouTube users stood at 48.8 crore. The data revealed that the number of Twitter users was less, compared to other platforms, he maintained.

Commenting on the use of multiple accounts, Khan said that India stood second after United States. He sought to know if the space created by social media had been equally divided in society. Social media had also been misused as a ploy to spew hatred and for political campaigns. Marginalised communities had been constantly complaining that they were not receiving fair share in social media; their cultural practices were being given a raw deal. They also nursed a grouse that TV channels never gave them an opportunity to present their point of view on a host of issues pertaining to them and their identity. Similarly, mainstream media too was not giving due representation to these communities in terms of discussion on their problems and focus on economic plight and social life vis-à-vis other communities that figure prominently. Some headway had, however, been made but that did not suffice. They nursed the grievance that their issues were being deliberately negated, he said.

Prof. Khan pointed out that Twitter offered a suitable alternative to other social media platforms as it provided a facility to use minimum words to express views and opinion. Social media provided a platform to marginalised sections, who could not get space in the traditional media to present their case before the world. But the use of social media was a bit difficult as those who were not technologically literate could not operate it. He noted that as many as 70 crore people were currently using social media. By 2025, as many as 89 crore people would own smartphones. But the digital divide continued to rule the roost as digital participation in society had not become inclusive yet. Though WhatsApp had the largest number of users, yet its penetration in terms of digital participation was not balanced. Citing internet inaccessibility as one of the reasons for the digital divide, he said that marginalised societies lagged behind in terms of accessibility. According to Census-2011, the literacy rate among minorities stood at 74 percent. This left a wide gap between the rate of illiteracy and digital illiteracy. He observed that there were economic, social and political reasons of illiteracy that had not been addressed. As the figures showed, both Dalits and Muslims were far behind the upper castes in the usage of digital device. Upper castes had 55 percent representation in the use of social media platforms, followed by other backward castes (OBC) and Muslims. While OBCs accounted for 31 percent, Muslims stood at 39 percent, he maintained.

Prof. Khan pointed out that making marginalised communities digitally literate was a problem. Media literacy among these communities could not gained ground because of non-availability of internet services round the clock. Thus, digital accessibility for marginalised sections continued to be a problem. Under such circumstances, the question arose if these sections could provide smartphones to their children. It also raised the question if the accessibility of this technology would increase in view of the 27 percent people living below the poverty line and earning a paltry sum of Rs. 75/- per day. According to a World Bank report, about 15 crore people were spending less than Rs. 15 a day. He noted that social media was a luxury today as digitalization was linked to income. Competition in digitalization would grow with the growth of income. Referring to the role of social media, he said that it aimed at making human life better. Social media played a significant role in the health sector during the last one and a half year. It yielded better results. He said that it was social media that strengthened the foundation of the government of Egypt during the Arab Spring.

Prof. Khan remarked that out of 24 hours, social media was used for 2.50 hours. The digital divide also leads to the social divide. Thus, the need of the hour is to ensure that this media is used for purposeful objectives, he said. Emphasising the need for equipping children with the digital device, he said that this would bridge the existing gap. This technology was as important as food. He opined that the importance of a community was not determined by its population but their presence on social media platforms. Majority of social media users were youngsters and the answer to hate campaign could never be hate. The answer, he said, should be based on facts and figures. He called upon the community to become digitally savvy. Similarly, the digital divide should be narrowed or else marginalised sections would lag behind others. He said the Muslim community needed to correct its negative image. This was a big challenge before the community. Owing to some regulatory bodies put in place by the government, hate campaign against Muslims had been put under check to some extent. This improved certain things as service providers had been regulated by the means of digital censorship, he noted.

Prof. Khan observed that social media platforms were facing a big challenge and if corrective measures were not taken, it could prove to be counter-productive. In order to strike a proper balance, marginalised communities should optimally make use of social media. He said that the reach of the social media could be gauged from the fact that as many as 16 crore users viewed the so-called ‘Corona Jihad’. But, that was the one-sided story. Things would have been different had Muslim religious leaders, social activists and the community’s voluntary organisations set the record straight. In the same way, marginalised communities groups could post factual context on social media platforms. He concluded by saying that the social media was an effective platform for the marginalised sections to share their views and help reduce the digital divide.

The lecture ended with a vote of thanks proposed by Abdul Bari Masud.


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