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Rajdeep Sardesai not quite right on social media

This morning, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNNIBN tweeted the following: “Bless social media! Power with zero responsibility! Have a good day.”

Within a minute, Sardesai got support from an unlikely source – Trinamool Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien. “+1 @sardesairajdeep Bless social media! Power with zero responsibility! Have a good day,” O’Brien tweeted.

So we have Rajdeep Sardesai, arguably one of the country’s greatest flagbearers as far as freedom of speech and freedom of the press is concerned, and Derek O’Brien, vice president of a political party which has cracked down on the forwarding of innocuous cartoons which provoke a laugh at Mamata Banerjee’s expense finding common ground.

Screengrab from Twitter

They both agree (presumably) on the core thought in Sardesai’s tweet: the ‘power with zero responsibility’ that social media enjoys.

I’m disturbed and confused by the sweeping generalisation made in Sardesai’s tweet. As in mainstream media and in politics, one finds all kinds in social media as well. There are some journalists and politicians who are corrupt and some who are not, some journalists and politicians with a high sense of responsibility and some without. Social media is no different.

As is done in newspapers and magazines, social media allows one to make a distinction on which hat one is wearing when making a comment; it could be personal or it could be official (a company or organisation) comment. In most cases, the bio of the user makes the position clear. For example, Derek O’Brien’s bio on twitter reads thus: “Quizmaster, TV anchor, author. Member of Parliament (Trinamool Congress) from Bengal. Tweets personal views. RTs not endorsed.” O’Brien has made it abundantly clear, therefore, that what he says on twitter reflect only his personal views and not those of the TMC or the business that he runs.

That’s a sense of responsibility. O’Brien is taking personal responsibility for all that he updates on twitter, with the disclaimer that, when he re-tweets, he is not endorsing the view of the original user.

If one were to follow O’Brien, one would be hard pressed to find a single update that is irresponsible. There might be many opinions that one does not agree with, but none that demonstrates power without responsibility. So it is with Sardesai.

On the flip side, there are many on twitter who do, indeed, act irresponsibly, making accusations that have no foundation, abusing and defaming people they do not like, and so on.

As there are many in mainstream media — and in news television.

Irresponsibility on social media does cause the culprit to pay a price. Take the case of Lalit Modi, whose tweets about New Zealand cricketer were found to be libelous and would end up costing Modi nearly Rs 4 crore.

Suhel Seth has to defend himself in two cases filed by ITC for what the company alleges are 'defamatory' tweets.” Presumably, these cases are pending. Whatever the outcome, the limited point one makes that, increasingly, irresponsibility will be dangerous on social media.

There is another issue that has to be considered – the newness of social media. There is no doubt that, to many, it was (and is) an extension of informal conversations that they might have in the real world, in private and relaxed society, devoid of worrying about responsibility. To many, especially business enterprises, behaviour on social media comes with all the responsibility that is required in the brick and mortar world. Time (and legal actions) will educate the uneducated, and all users will indeed HAVE to exercise the responsibility that comes with the power.

Defamation is common in MSM, as is libel. It might be more common in social media, but under no circumstance do social media users deserve to be tarred by as broad a brush as Sardesai and O’Brien do, as, under no circumstance can one say all mainstream media journalists and politicians are irresponsible or corrupt – though many are.