Calling Saina Nehwal 'anti-national' for a phone shows the ugly side of social media again

The ills of social media have reared their ugly heads yet again. Saina Nehwal is the innocent target this time, with mindless users abusing the democracy of Twitter to troll the badminton star for all the wrong reasons. The former world No 1 must have suffered a terrible shock when a well-meaning post on her account about her new phone resulted in her being branded anti-national.

In this branding battle initiated by a handful of misguided Twitterati, the people involved seemed to have gone short on sense and fired long on jingoistic opportunism. At a time when the London Olympics bronze medallist could use some encouragement and support, it is certainly distressing to see the kind of malevolent insinuation that drives such conversation on Twitter.

We can find answers to the root of these distasteful expressions in social psychology. People engage in such callously insensitive behavior due to an acquired condition, defined as 'disinhibition' and 'deindividuation'.

You can almost be certain that these very people would stand with trembling knees, should they stand face to face with Saina. But on social media, they are driven to express and indulge in ways that would not be possible in the physical world due to the need for social restraint.

To her credit, Saina has preferred to maintain a dignified silence rather than wade into the meaningless wave of dirt floating on her timeline. One is reminded of the angst that was directed at Sania Mirza when she married Shoaib Malik in the summer of 2010, and the flag disrespect controversy that nearly dragged her to court in 2008.

 Calling Saina Nehwal anti-national for a phone shows the ugly side of social media again

Saina Nehwal. AFP

Easy to celebrate, easier to insult seems to be the mantra of some modern day sports fans. In an era driven by trending hashtags and ridiculously short memory cycles, it has become easy to jump at the first opportunity to drag stars down to the dump yard, for quick attention, if nothing else.

It is clearly disgusting to brand Saina anti-national, especially when it is likely that most of those indulging in it have nothing to show for their own contribution to their families, let alone the nation. On the other hand, Saina has been a one-woman army helping Indian badminton scale new peaks working with former badminton players Pullela Gopichand and Vimal Kumar.

We also seem to conveniently forget that some of the biggest selling brands in the country, such as Apple and Samsung, are equally made in Chinese factories. Interestingly, Huawei, a much sought after employer in Bengaluru has been operating in India for nearly two decades. Only in September, they have announced grand expansion plans for India, including a local manufacturing agreement with Flextronics.

"The Government of India is pleased to see so much enthusiasm for our “Make in India” initiative. We are working towards making India an electronic manufacturing hub,” gushed Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who hold the portfolios for IT as well as Law and Justice, while inaugurating the 3mn unit Huawei-Flex plant in Chennai. “As India is set to become the second largest smartphone market, our government would like to invite even more businesses to come and manufacture in India.”

The foolishness behind an utterance of this nature is beneath description. At one level we crave interaction with the stars that excite our glands and at the other we indulge in behavior like this that only serves to force the stars to withdraw into a shell of isolation.

Twitter has been a fabulous tool for engagement between star and fan – bridging the vast distances between their lives by providing an opportunity for real time communication.

Irrespective of whether Saina’s post was driven by commercial considerations or a genuine intent to engage with fans, there was no room for this kind of behaviour from fans abusing the medium of Twitter.

Even more laughable is the ignorance that drives this behavior. At a time when Paytm is being promoted nearly as a national virtue, in the face of demonetisation difficulties, it is silly for people to respond in this manner and insult one of India’s foremost exponents of badminton.

It was only last year that Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant invested $575 million into the One97 Communications owned Paytm, to take its stake in the payment systems startup to 41 percent. It is more than likely that many of these trolls enjoy the convenience of its app on their own Chinese manufactured phones.

It takes enormous hard work and sacrifices as a child to rise to the stature of Saina Nehwal. She is a recipient of marquee awards such as the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Padma Bhushan and Arjuna – some of the most coveted national honours in India. It took years of toil for the Haryanvi girl to rise to the top of her sport, winning accolades and awards in a sport once dominated by the Chinese players.

She has made a definitive contribution to upend the Chinese and shift the balance of power in badminton, tilting it in favour of India. It is her success over the past decade that has paved the way for the emergence of stars such as P V Sindhu, adding to the shifting momentum.

Besides all of that, social media allows us a glimpse into the lives of our favourite stars. The various media available today facilitate healthy interaction between the stars and their fans. We could benefit mutually by keeping the interaction respectful.

One can only hope that Saina, typically very active on social media, does not withdraw into a cocoon incensed by this instance of indecent behavior by some of her ill-informed fans.

Updated Date: Dec 16, 2016 10:58:10 IST