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Rituparna Chatterjee
Sunday , June 17, 2012 at 13 : 03

Mamata Banerjee on Facebook: 'Like', 'share' or 'hide from Timeline'?


The needle on my irony meter is quivering at 'maximum' as I write this post. A month ago Mamata Banerjee was upset about a cartoon that allegedly lampooned her, being shared profusely on Facebook. Her exact words were: "There is a political conspiracy through Facebook, Twitter and SMS. I am being shown in Facebook. Now, it is my turn. I will show you Facebook."

The mercurial Chief Minister of West Bengal, who has made volte face an art form, joined the social networking site on June 16 to initiate a campaign for a second term for former President APJ Abdul Kalam. "Whatever I have to say, I will say on Facebook", she warned.

In April her government arrested the professor behind the cartoon and wanted all "objectionable content", including her morphed pictures, removed from Facebook. While I completely understand the outrage, (I wouldn't want my face projected on Hitler's body either) the fact remains that regular social networkers will now have to deal with much more than daily Farmville requests.

A month ago, her anger was directed at a living, breathing, mammoth organism she didn't fully understand or appreciate. Facebook, with its nearly one billion users, is not simply a tool of connecting people. It joins thoughts, ideals, dogmas and principles across the world. It gives the like-minded a platform to vent, alienate the black sheep, deride the ridiculous and welcome the renegade.

Since May, 2012, Mamata has had a chance to perhaps take a closer look at the website she was so ready to blacklist, and understand its sheer reach and scope. Didi being didi, she now wants to use it to her political advantage.

Her track record does not say much about her willingness to tolerate dissent. Facebook, as a medium that is largely and fairly tolerant of free speech, might prove the Trinamool Congress' nightmare in the days to come. Time will teach her that there are all kinds of people on the site - their hatred unbound, their comments cutting and their adulation unrestrained.

As a leader, Mamata and her party could use Facebook to build a community, convert people to their ideology and clarify misconceptions, or she can take a diffident stand and spew outrage at every negative comment coming her way. But Didi can't have it both ways. Unlike the West where political leaders take social media in their stride and use it effectively to communicate to their vote bank, Facebook and Twitter are still at a very nascent stage in India as tools of change.

To begin with, Mamata cannot both discourage people from expressing their creativity, be it in the form of a cartoon, a post, a note or a picture on Facebook and encourage them to connect to her page and take her thoughts forward. It does not work that way.

To actively use Facebook, she has to maintain her personal distance from the content that is put up every day by millions and restrain herself from reacting to every single trifle she perceives as derision.

Facebook is a beast and to tame it and bow it to her will, Mamata has to prove she is genetically and intellectually superior to it.


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More about Rituparna Chatterjee

In her 10 years in the media, Rituparna has worked both on the field as a reporter as well as off it, on the desk. Lover of cumin flavoured "authentic" Chinese food. God is watching but that's no compulsion to keep the desktop neat.