The Whatsapp University


I often listen to journalist Ravish Kumar disparaging  social media on his Prime Time.A fancy term which he throws around with  careless abandon is ‘ Whatsapp University’ to refer to the knowledge or misinformation which gets circulated over the social media .One has every right to be  satirical ,but trying to pass a private  joke for  an intellectual nugget and attempt to introduce it in serious discourse belies ulterior motives and bad scholarship. Such condescending remarks  smack of deep-rooted bias against the vastly unregulated social media and free knowledge ,as well as against  the less aware,uneducated,common people .It is fine as long as the problems of aam admi get broadcasted through your hallowed media space,but if the same aam admi wrests initiative by conversing with the like-minded ,then Ravish bhai doesn’t consider him capable enough of discerning the genuine from the fake.To present the ‘janta janardan’ as helpless,gullible and vulnerable amidst the barrage of information flooding the online as well as the print space, is to belittle the acumen of the common citizen. “How could a common man assume such airs ? He should wait for our bulletins to be informed. He needs to be spoon-fed.” This attitude of the liberal-left mainstream media is dangerous.


What is ‘fake news’ anyway? How is it different from reality ? What are facts ? What is a view ? How is the history written ? Are facts,views and history sacrosanct ? Who certifies if they are ?


This is the age of social media.Along with smartphones,arrived Facebook,Twitter and Whatsapp.We can bury our heads in sand and crib about the online traffic.We can shed bucketful of tears in  fond remembrance of history textbooks and good old print and visual media.We can bully or lampoon those who use social media,and willingly or inadvertently gain awareness about the world from there. We can indulge ourselves with humourless,inane comments about social media. Or,we can open our eyes and realize that the matter is not that straightforward.Absolute objectivity is a myth.Facts don’t get recorded by themselves.The biases,or preferences of the ones recording them would necessarily  influence the outcome.More importantly ,facts don’t speak for themselves.You need an interpreter who usually masquerades as a historian ,or a journalist or a politician to deliver his understanding of the given facts.The widely accepted written history is just the dominant version of the official or the victors’ views on recorded facts.Verbal history is more unreliable as it  gets mixed with eulogies and legends in assorted manner.How does this ‘history’ get distorted ? Obviously when someone tries to reinterpret  given facts or  point towards  inherent biases involved in collection of data,or their explanations , he is accused of tampering with the status quo and attempting to alter history.The point being that there is nothing sacrosanct about either facts,views,narratives or even written history.Howsoever much they tell us about the inviolability of our NCERT textbooks or the true and eternal qualities of the liberal-left version of history,there can always be a counter-view ,because no event can be considered independent of the Rashomon effect,and no ideology is the final or the perfect one.


This then being the nature of history,or reality ,as propounded by the liberal-left,one can always question the accuracy and the authenticity of our textbooks and widely held beliefs and notions.


The three widely popular social media networks are quite different in their usage,utilities,reach and effects.Twitter is a platform to follow breaking news,and get an brief idea of views held by those who matter. Facebook provides  a wider social networking platform.Both involve public broadcast  of views but Facebook provides pedestal for more detailed expression,discussion and analysis  than twitter ,which promotes messaging within limitations.Whatsapp on the other hand is an instant messaging app which can be used only if one has the phone number of the desired recipient.This makes it  more personal and intimate message sharing medium,in which  people belonging to similar ideologies,region,religion,caste and loyalties share like-minded views.Rumours love Whatsapp,since they are not as effectively regulated as Facebook and Twitter.Fake news and misinformation are not the preserve of any one medium.While Facebook also feeds on the vanity of its users,who like to share their views and pictures on personal ,social as well as general events,Whatsapp involves a more intimate sharing of such information.One chats on WhatsApp, ‘tweets’ on twitter and broadcasts or publicly expresses himself on Facebook.Facebook and Twitter also have the concept of a Timeline or a Wall which is a public record of the views and feeds of a person.Whatsapp provides no such facility, although chats can be saved.


Social media has activated dormant traits among its users which are now humongous in number.Thank god for these platforms ,people who had given up reading and writing after college have willingly picked  them up again.Those who didn’t even use to open newspaper folds , now enthusiastically read and share posts.Once the initial obsession with personal networking dies down,a user starts exploring the social and political uses of social media . It cannot just remain a hobby, it ends up being a lot more.


In the age of social media,everyone is a political activist and holds strong likes,dislikes and views.The peacock in most of us has been unshackled .From what we eat,to who we meet or support ,and feel about anything and everything is posted on Facebook.Thus this is also  the age of public revelation of tastes,manners,opinions and  intellect. A social media user is a postman,an author,a photographer,a sensationalist,a celeb hunter,a poseur,a public intellectual come out of closet and generally a more confident and frank human being,at least in the virtual world.Of course ,cyber bullies and frauds have also risen to the fore,and egos have become massive .There are pointless arguments ,where people get nasty and fib or concoct a lot of data.They end up wasting a lot of time on social media,but then who is to regulate ?


There is no point in  reaffirming  the obvious .A lot of fake news ,propaganda,deliberate lies and licentious material does get circulated over social media.Cyber crimes,frauds are committed and lies peddled .But the ‘university’ is doing fine.It has contributed a lot by raising  general awareness,social connectivity and most importantly,by allowing outlet of news from the far away ,or suppressed corners of the world  to the online media and from there to enter global discourse.It must hurt a news anchor that his primacy/monopoly over setting the socio-political agenda has been  broken.People understand that someone sitting in an AC newsroom does not know everything,and might be having ideological moorings.His condescension descends from his comparative advantage over a common man of one or two degrees in a good college,and the legitimacy of his microphone.Else he would not already be heralding the arrival of post-social media age by decrying the data shared on it and avuncularly calling it as ‘WhatsApp University’. Post –truth times we do live in,but it is premature to announce that social media has outlived its authenticity and utility.



#WhatsAppUniversity #WhatsApp #Facebook #Twitter #fakenews #posttruth #ravishkumar #MSM

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