So for the last 36 hours or so, social media (and mainline media) has been abuzz about Aamir Khan's statement on the conditions in India, and how his wife has thought about leaving India.
Large numbers of people disliked this statement, coming from the actor they so liked and idolised. And they went after him hammer and tongs, on social media.
And the conclusion was that this was exactly what he meant - that the country is intolerant about any expression that concerns the state of the country!
While I agree that there is a heightened sense of intolerance, but it is not restricted to subjects related to the state of the nation and / or the government of the day.
Let me explain.
1. The Celeb fascination:
In the past we have had celebs who let their fans down with their actions. One star was involved in handling arms that affected the Mumbai riots. Another drove a car over people. A cricket captain who was found guilty of match fixing. Etc.
These happened at times when social media was not so big, or not there at all. And yet, I am sure these incidents were discussed threadbare, over filter coffee at an Udipi joint, or over cutting chai at the collega katta, or in the midst of clinking of glasses at the club bar.
Yes, those whom we idolise, we also run them down, when they seemingly let us down. It is not something new, and it is not just about their opinions on the country.
Social media makes it easier to do so, and which is why you see the reactions to an Abhijeet (singer) or an Aamir Khan or whoever else.
2. I react because I can!
It is not just about celebrities. See what happens when a brand makes a typo on a Facebook update.. suddenly scores of citizen editors jump on the brand, as they exhibit intolerance to a small grammatical error on the part of the brand.
I have personally had people exhibit intolerance to my passion about Roger Federer, or to my choice of films, or of course, to my preference on the political front.
Try criticising a big budget film on its first weekend of release, and you will have people (or fake handles) jump on you, with abuse and all, to make you wonder, why on earth did you bother to write anything at all. While a part of it is an unfortunate and desperate marketing effort, to ensure that people don't see any negative reactions to the film, and the first big weekend happens, this is also on account of fans who wouldn't tolerate a bad word spoken about their favourite star!
We react like this, because we can. On Social Media.
3. What characterises this behaviour?
Few of the reasons why we see this kind of response, are as under:
a. Our attention spans are low. And our reaction times are fast!
We see something that appears offensive. We may not get into details to understand it better. And we shoot off our own opposing reaction, to start the wave of intolerant response!
b. Because everyone has an opinion, only now we know where to share it!
Yeah, the local train conversations or the ones happening at private parties, about any and every current topic, is an indication that people have had an opinion on things around them, for the longest of time.
All these years, those private parties or those evening get-togethers in the building compound were the only places you could vent those opinions out.
Now, with social media, everyone's a publisher! And can speak their mind. And get an audience of some sort. Sometimes a large one too.
Again, as a lot of our such expression is not what others may agree with, it starts another wave of intolerance.
c. Even the introverts can speak here
So it is not just the people who were anyway expressive in a party, who are opening up on social media. Since one does not have to make eye contact, since one can even hide behind anonymity, since one can get away with whatever one chooses to express, for all such reasons, we find that even the otherwise introvert kind, are speaking openly, on social media.
Which means huge traffic, large amount of content produced, lots of opinions expressed. And when so many utensils clash against each other, a lot of noise is going to be produced. And each one thinks of it as the other persons' intolerance.
All in all, we are living in reactionary times. Short fuses. Extreme sensitivity. And a general volatility!
The state of the nation or the government has nothing to do with it. Any and every subject gets discussed and debated, and argued upon.
Yes, these are times of social media. These are times of citizen journalism. These are times of mass publishing. Which all lead to these being also times of intolerance!
(The author of this article is Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO, Mirum India—Global Digital Agency of the J Walter Thompson Company. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of the publication)