In the recently published Democracy Index 2020, India slipped to 53rd position with an overall decrease of score from 6.9 to 6.61. Falling under the category of ‘flawed democracies’, US, Brazil, France, and Belgium shared the batch with India. From 27th position in 2014 (with a score of 7.92), to a score of 6.61 in 2020, to sliding down to 53rd, is a clear result of democratic backsliding under the current regime for India. and other social media platforms, many times it’s an expression that does not match the opinion of the masses.
With political opinions being expressed massively over Twitter, trend of hashtag hijack and increasing #hashtagracy has become a phenomenon. Let us examine certain instances.
In light of the recent tweets international celebrities over the ongoing farmers protest at Delhi borders, a new kind of nationalism was witnessed. Hashtags like #IndiaAgainstPropaganda and #IndiaTogether Indian celebrities kept the social media packed. The same vocabulary over all tweets well indicates the control of government authorities over social media.
US President Donald Trump’s use of the platform to incite his supporters to “stop the steal” and acting as assignment editor to the media is the sterling example of #hashtagracy. After asking his supporters to reverse the election he lost demonstrating their vigor at the US Capitol, he sat calm watching the supporters clash with police, break into Congress, threatening democracy and the constitutional order.
It was in 2018 when supporters of the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government in Bangladesh lashed out at those criticising the arrest of famed photographer Shahidul Alam over Twitter. Government supporters came in rescue to justify Alam’s arrest with the same hashtag. The photographer was arrested for making “provocative comments” about student protests in Bangladesh back then.
As per Sanjana Hattotuwa, a tech expert and doctoral student at University of Otago, New Zealand, all the people who tweeted to justify Alam’s arrest had strong connections with the Awami League.
February 2018 was the time when Maldives was widely criticised for imposing an emergency President Abdulla Yameen. The government supporters then started tweeting with the hashtag that critics were using, #MaldivesInCrisis.
When jounalist Gauri Lankesh was trolled following her murder, many supporters of PM Modi came in to defend the trending hashtag #BlockNarendraModi. Her killing triggered many people across the country, and so they were furious against the PM as he happened to follow people who trolled Gauri Lankesh.
Are political hashtags truly fostering constructive civil discourse and raising positive awareness around key social issues?
Today, every hashtag has some political connotation. How much is it in favour of civil discourse is the main point of concern. As a platform focused on content sharing, people need to understand the pros and cons lying with the platform. The mechanism they are adopting while using hashtags, the other side might apply the same. Thus, it is essential to understand the genuinity of trending hashtags in order to decrease the effect of #hashtagracy.