Do you know Kenny Sebastian, the standup comedian? On 1st July’20, he was involved in a twitter debate regarding the Tik Tok ban in India. Then the twitter handle replied back calling him a “rice bag convert”, which is a derogatory term often used against the Christian community. Another comedian, Agrima Joshua twitted in support of Kenny Sebastian, after which a chain of events started against her. There were a couple of arrests made by the police in connection to the case, as she was severely abused and thrown sexual threats. These incidents were followed by resurfacing a very old video where she was alleged to be disrespectful to a Maratha icon, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. And finally, social media bullying started as well. The place where she performed on a “Facebook live” that was severely damaged and the Maharashtra home minister demanded her arrest. Shubham Mishra, a Youtuber recorded a video and directing sexual assaults at Agrima, and many influencers demanded his arrest. The Vadodara police finally arrested Shubham. This is not a topic of focused freedom of expression but a unique strategy which many people are imbibing, by using strong abusive language to become famous.
The new macho influencers
If you know Vikas Pathak, popularly known as “Hindustani Bhau” became famous after a video where he abused a certain number of people who he considered anti-national. The video became viral because it was primarily used in memes. After this fame, he started shooting more and more similar videos and became popular among Youtube and Tik Tok viewers. Mostly all of his videos had a similar theme because-
- Because he always took up a political topic.
- He attacked a specific section of people with whom he had a difference in opinion using powerful, abusive language.
- He used a simple mobile phone to record his videos and shot in his car.
His popularity became so big That he became a contestant in the reality show Bigg Boss. This inspired many young Indian men out of which Shubham Mishra, the Youtuber is one of them (He has 3 lakh followers).
If you see all these videos, you will find three main points
- They use strong abusive language.
- They are talking about right-wing political opinion.
- Finally, they throw out physical or sexual threats against a particular person.
The question lies that why are these genre of videos so popular. Clearly, the target audience of these videos is young Indian men. Abusing someone isn’t something which a new culture started. History says the abusive language has been an essential medium of communication. In fact, a recent book stated that Badshah Akbar also used abuse as a medium of communication. But abusing someone was never considered a well-cultured and learned behaviour. But according to researchers, abusive language has its own sets of benefits as well. Some researchers say that by abusing, the stress level of many people is reduced.
We all can communicate in two ways-
- Where we think, perceive and communicate.
- Where we communicate spontaneously without much thoughts involved.
Both these communications are controlled by various parts of the brain. But when we abuse someone, we usually do not think much. That is why this abusive language is governed by that part of the brain which controls spontaneous reactions. Suppose a hammer falls down on your fingers, then you instantly scream and say “*****”. When we abusive someone or give them a spontaneous reaction, the person on the receiving end has a clear picture of our thoughts and emotions. Maybe that is why it’s said that when people use more abusive language, they are considered more honest and less deceptive.
This shouldn’t be so much surprising for us because it is believed that people who abuse a lot have natural behaviour, no hidden agenda and talk without a filter. Whereas politics is such a field where people use diplomacy the most. Maybe this is why people do not believe politicians much. Primarily when people are associated with a political organisation, we cannot understand their real intention behind any statement. But when someone comes to the screen with a familiar face with a common language, maybe it gives an impression of how the typical youth is actually thinking. And that is why people like to watch these videos.
Abuses are only one part of Hindustani Bhau or Shubham Mishra’s freedom of expression. The other part is definitely political opinions. Some research studies have tried to understand why is right-wing political belief so much popular on Youtube. One supporting fact is that it isn’t challenging to create videos on these platforms. All you need is a mobile phone, less or no research on the topics and a simple background which gives them enough audience to compete with the mainstream media. This low barrier entry is also applicable for right-wing supporters, but why is it appropriate only for the right-wing? The main reason is that in India and other countries in the world, the main building block for right-wing opinions is “fear”.
Most right-wing content uses the emotion of “fear” to gain traction. Be it immigration, population increase or difference of culture etc. These have many scientific reasons, as well. In a 2012 study, liberal and conservative parties were shown different pictures- some were negative, and some were positive, and their eye movements were recorded. It was found that liberal participants focused on positive images like the picture of a happy child, conservative parties focused on negative photos. Another research concludes that conservative people, i.e. people who have right-wing opinions, are more emotionally sensitive towards threats. A 2008 study found out that individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to sudden noise and graphical images, favour defence spending, capital punishment, patriotism and the Iraq war, i.e. conservative opinions.
In today’s world, where economic inequality is increasing day by day, a social movement like LGBTQ+, feminist movements are gaining more strength. It is because of immigration, individual attitudes and behaviours are changing, and people feel threatened about their culture, identity and economic position. That is why personal political opinions are turning towards the right-wing, as it resists these changes.
The third factor comprising these popularly watched videos is physical/sexual threats. Influencers using these threats in their videos isn’t much surprising though, but what is surprising is that despite these graphical threats, people continue to watch such videos.
So, the question is why people do watch these types of content?
Two researchers might have the answer to this question. Bill O’ Reilly is an American journalist and Harvey Weinstein, a movie producer had sexual harassment allegations against them. Bill was considered conservative, whereas Harvey was deemed to be liberal. Researchers tried to study both these cases and conducted a survey asking whether both should be sent to jail for their actions or not? They obtained an exciting result. Liberals considered equally guilty of their charges whereas conservatives favoured Weinstein more than O’Reilly. Now, why did this happen? One theory suggests that there is a difference in moral foundation between liberals and conservatives, i.e. right-wing. On this basis, Liberals favour individual values like fairness, equality and justice more; whereas, conservatives prioritise group loyalty. That is why when a conservative influencer throws out physical or sexual threats, the audience doesn’t mind it that much. This doesn’t mean they agree entirely to them but earlier mentioned, conservatives give more priority towards group loyalty and watch the content.
By using abusive language and sexual, physical threats, people like Shubham Mishra drive their popularity, but this doesn’t mean that nothing much can be done against it. Social media companies need to be more responsible about their platforms. Many studies have talked about right-wing radicalism. By using complex codes and giving more power to the audience, these social media companies can arrest these behaviours. But despite this, it would be majorly tricky to bring a change unless our political authorities react to it. Till the time political parties do not condemn social media bullying, this type of behaviour will continue to be present and become famous.
As individuals, we can also take some steps. First, we can educate ourselves on social media bullying. Never normalise aggressive behaviours like these on social media. “Hindustani Bhau” became popular because it was used for viral memes. Condemn them and voice your opinion that it is wrong. And lastly, people who are going through social media bullying, try and support them by having a healthy conversation and understanding their part of the story. If their DMs are open, text them that you feel sorry for the situation they are going through and comfort them by handing over your support.
This may not be enough but can minimise the adverse effects of such bullish behaviour over the internet. Have you ever faced such a threat or been a receiver of abusive behaviour on social media? Do share your experiences and the steps you took to overcome it.