rime Minister Narendra Modi has, in a tweet, informed the country about his intention to quit social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. This announcement has drawn reactions from multiple quarters. If Rahul Gandhi asked Modi to quit hatred and not social media, Sashi Tharoor suspected the tweet to be a prelude to a ban on social media in the country. There was still another who felt Modi should also advise the “concerted army of trolls, who abuse-intimidate-badger-threaten others” every second in the PM’s name to quit the platforms. The move is indeed intriguing and such comments indicate the country is keenly watching the Prime Minister’s every move despite the many other happenings around the country.
There are a few possibilities that the announcement raises. One could be that the popularity of Modi has been on the wane. He is merely trying to gauge the depth of his support base through a social media gimmick. There are many who have claimed that the actual number of followers of Modi on social media could be far below the figures shown. They give credit for the massive following to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT Cell. It is a fact that social media accounts today are no longer as interesting as they were a few years ago. Perhaps their popularity has already reached a plateau and further wane in the near future would make them less effective in the kind of propaganda that Modi wants. Already there have been several reports of how the user base of Facebook was showing a declining trend between 2016 and 2018.
According to a report published late 2019, people are tending towards more private conversations today than public interactions on social media. Mark Zuckerberg himself had announced at the F8 developer conference last year that the future ‘is private’. For Facebook itself, private messaging, ephemeral stories and small groups were the fastest growing areas. In the case of Twitter, increasing restrictions imposed by countries made the platform less popular. It even saw users migrating to Mastodon, a free and open-source self-hosted social networking service. These factors could have played a role in directing Modi’s decision to quit social media. But that may not be the only reason. Another possibility is that the reach of Modi through social media platforms, despite the huge number of followers he has, may be poor. The IT cell of the BJP could be finding the returns on the time and resources invested on these platforms diminishing. There is a lot of displeasure about the trolls on such media who are countering every expression of dissent by abuse and threats as was vocalised by one of the comments on Modi’s latest post. The other possibility is that Modi may not quit social media. He is merely testing the waters to see how his virtual following reacts to his declaration. The metrics would already have been analysed threadbare and a picture would have emerged by now as to whether the PM remains as popular as he was a few years back. One of the chief reasons why such an abrupt declaration by Modi has drawn attention is that he has a penchant for ‘historical decisions’ such as Demonetisation.
It is highly likely that the PM could take some decision to curb social media freedom in India. It would be well within the realm of imagination if he launches a desi social media platform supported by one of the large industry houses in the country. But unless the international platforms are not only banned but also completely blocked, as suspected by Tharoor, it is very unlikely that the Modi haters would switch to a desi platform willingly. That is a possibility which should not be ignored. Also, if Modi is not on social media, his ability to communicate with people would diminish. He already does not speak with the mainstream media of the country. If he cuts off entirely from social media platforms he will be repeating a Maun Mohan Singh in a way. There are indications that the PM may launch an app for direct interaction with people. That maybe could be a private mode of interaction.
The question is what other facilities will this app, if it is to be a reality, would offer to the government besides facilitating direct communication. It must be hoped that we, as citizens, will continue to have the freedom to keep our interactions free and independent of the PM’s ominous announcement about his social media decision.