Can Social Media Leave Analysis of the Kashmir Situation to the Real Experts?

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Can Social Media Leave Analysis of the Kashmir Situation to the Real Experts?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In the last couple of days, there’s been so much speculation about what’s happening in Kashmir, we’ve actually ended up having very little idea of what’s happening in Kashmir. The last thing we officially heard before all phone lines and electricity connections were cut off in the state, two nights ago, was that additional troops had been deployed, and that the Amarnath Yatra had been truncated. A few politicians said on Twitter that they had been placed on house arrest, before WiFi networks were cut off across the state. For the next 12 hours, there was no definite word on what this meant, until Home Minister Amit Shah announced the next morning that the Centre had moved to abrogate the controversial Article 370, which granted special powers to Jammu and Kashmir, and had called in paramilitary forces as a preventive measure.

While all of this was underway, one section of society, however, claimed to actually know exactly what was going on — social media analysts. Going by the various conversations in the 48 hours prior to the official announcement, Kashmir was either dealing with the worst genocide since World War II, or in the process of liberating itself from the clutches of “evil” separatists. The trending hashtags went from the morbid #KashmirBleeds, to the alarmist #KashmirParFinalFight, to the celebratory #KashmirHamaraHai. The same social media experts that dissected Zomato’s tweet-off with a bigot in detail for two days, had now transformed into experts in Constitutional law.

For a layman who has absolutely no idea about the politics of Kashmir, one glance at social media on Sunday morning would have been enough to cause a serious anxiety attack. On one side, there was a very vocal crowd announcing that the government had finally decided to use Kashmir as a launching pad to wipe out Pakistan (the usual lunatics, lamenting about how they would have launched the missiles themselves, if only someone gave them access). On the other side, we saw an alarming number of comparisons to Nazi Germany and fatalistic comments about how India had turned into Israel overnight, whatever that means. 

It seemed, at that point, that we were merely minutes away from the Armageddon. This was made evident by the number of Tweeters who were already standing in solidarity with the entire state. Barely a few hours from an official announcement, the conversation was already polarised, and misinformation had begun to spread.

The same social media experts that dissected Zomato’s tweet-off with a bigot in detail for two days, had now transformed into experts in Constitutional law.

On Monday morning, hours before Amit Shah officially spoke about what the government had planned, WhatsApp forwards had started doing the rounds, telling us where to buy land in Kashmir for cheap. Travel websites carried listicles asking if it was “safe to travel to Ladakh right now?”, and almost every Twitter personality, from random blue tick-holders to writer Chetan Bhagat had made statements, each more vague than the next. And Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, tweeted that he was for the government’s move, causing himself to be officially cancelled by the “liberals” who love him most. 

Over the next few hours, as the bill was being presented and passed in Parliament, it had become evident that this was turning out to be a highly complex situation with many legal and moral angles to consider. That didn’t stop the stream of hyperbolic phrases being thrown around, such as “grave violation of The Constitution” or “end to three decades of militancy”. A side conversation celebrated the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the state, which Anupam Kher unfortunately called “the Kashmir Solution”, a reference that wasn’t taken too kindly. Another section was, meanwhile, turning their display pictures red in protest, and an even smaller section was arguing that staying silent would make us implicit in the torture of innocent Kashmiris. 

To muddle things further, each of these individual talking points spawned their own conversations, breaking down complex matters like the difference between a state and a Union Territory in 140 characters, either to hail the decision or protest it. 

We were also treated to a number of half-baked jokes, several of them misogynistic in nature. On TikTok, a few men were making comments on how they’ll travel to Kashmir to look for brides. Others gleefully thumped their chest at the thought that they could now buy land in Kashmir, even if their bank balances didn’t fully agree.  TKTK

It’s worth noting that, at that point, very few actual Kashmiris still had access to the internet.

 It’s worth noting that, at that point, very few actual Kashmiris still had access to the internet. Sure there were the odd few comments from Kashmiris in other parts of India, talking about what this personally meant to them, and how it affected their families. There was also a number of enlightening threads from the more knowledgeable folk who broke down the timeline in detail, like The Indian Express, which gave out a detailed explainer. But none of that was as exciting as this chorus of extremely uninformed hysteria, which ended up contributing absolutely nothing toward explaining what was going on.

Now as more details emerge, experts will no doubt decipher the situation, and we’ll have all the time in the world to argue about what may or may not be valid points. Like the good old days, when social media was the place where we could collate reports from various news sources to buffer our own opinions with actual information. After this particular weekend, it seems like social media analysts are dedicated to making their own headlines. Every individual — no matter how out of the loop — has a point of view. No one has time to wait for journalists to do their job anymore.

Maybe, just maybe, in situations as complex and grave as this, it would be better for these online analysts to just sit it out. Not one person would be upset if some random blue tick profile with 1k followers didn’t entertain the world with their own opinion on the Kashmir affair. They’d probably be happier without the two whole days of speculation and paranoia. 

But, then again, social media has never been renowned for its restraint and balanced views. So it’s all wishful thinking of course. 

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