Deconstructing an Intifada – The social media space
Every time Kashmir erupts, some social media activist sitting in some corner of the world dubs it as Kashmir’s New Intifada. The word ‘intifada’ is of Arabic origin and means shaking or shuddering. Its use became popular in the context of Palestinian resistance against Israel, the First Intifada (1987-1993), the Second Intifada (2000-2005) and the Quds Intifada of 2015 which saw an escalation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
These social media activists, often called ‘keypad warriors’, are usually students studying at various universities abroad. These ‘Children of the Greater Gods’, as they may well be called to underline their marked contrast with students who pelt stones and receive pellets back home, act both as agents provocateur as well as vectors that help a social media message go viral.
A cursory look at their Facebook accounts is enough to see where the so-called intifada of theirs is headed on a particular day. These people pretend, at times expressly profess, to belong to one of the many shades of the Left. The more honest among them are unabashed Islamists.
Kashmir has had several little intifadas of its own. They have been discrete and sequential, with large intervals of remission, rather than being constituents of a drawn out single intifada, as has been the case in Palestine. The secessionist leadership recognised the role and usefulness of social media a few years back. Syed Ali Shah Geelani and other Hurriyat leaders, during their issuance of protest calendars these past few years, would ask people to use Facebook for registering their protest and, more importantly, as a means to network. This networking works on two levels. First as an exchange of information in an ever-widening information hub.
The second level is more insidious and is executed in cells, or Facebook groups, where a mixed group of people gets exposed to carefully crafted propaganda which is seemingly spontaneously exchanged by a large cross-section of members but is actually traceable to a very small group of two or three facilitators who steer the dissemination of the propaganda along a predetermined course. The propaganda is a seductive mix of piety and outrage, of libertarianism and revolt, of the Left and the Right. This propaganda gets replicated on multiple pages, in multiple utterances of multiple people and soon assumes the shape of public outrage. Pictures of children with pellet-riddled faces, of funerals upon funerals and wailing women, pictures of an overwhelming grief that come out of the valley with such heartbreaking regularity are enough to outrage.
But the spinmeisters think nothing of adding a morphed or out-of-context picture or two to inflame passions that little bit more. Theirs is not to stem the tide or stanch the flow of blood, it is to add a little more gore and gristle and hope for a more incendiary mix. Why is there no picture of an injured policeman, forehead cracked, that ever makes it to any media whether mainstream or otherwise? Is it because there is no such policeman? Sadly, propaganda often edges out the truth in the battle of public perception. It does not matter whose propaganda it is, only who is better at it.
It has been known for a while now that Pakistan has very effective media and information management skills. Plausible deniability, straight denial, dissembling or outright lying. You name it and they have nailed it, long back. There is no gainsaying the fact that successive intifadas of Kashmir have been aided and abetted, if not micro-managed, by Pakistan. It would be obvious to expect elements of their information management to be present in the support structure every uprising has to have, perforce of necessity. Of late there is an unprecedented consolidation of views on Kashmir in the social media. These views have traditionally been of different types. The views of Kashmiris is generally different from the views of non-Kashmiris. That much is to be expected. But these two major groups have had great diversity within themselves as well. In July, well before the crisis had reached a tipping point, opinions had started getting consolidated in an undifferentiated mass. What is more, the same buzzwords and buzz phrases kept reappearing all over cyber-space.
Well, as the Bard says, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”