KATHMANDU, FEB 10 - Traditional means of public protests have almost always taken the form of mass gatherings in public places. People huddle together, chant slogans, clash with police, burn tires, hurl stones and vandalise public property. Looking back on Nepal’s mass uprising of 2006, it is hard to image the revolution succeeding had the protesters strayed from the path already trodden. Be it uprisings in Tunisia or Egypt, the fundamental method of all protests has been similar. From Tiananmen to Tahrir, the world will continue to witness similar squares.
However, with the birth of the internet and the prevalence of social media, there has been a significant transformation in the concept and practice of public protest. Regime-changing protests around the world have greatly utilised the power and potential of social media like Twitter and Facebook. Although Nepal popular movements were unable to exploit the internet as much as other uprisings like the Arab Spring, these media platforms are increasingly becoming a venue for many to pour their rage and frustration toward their socio-political, cultural-economic lives in recent times.
Following the demise of the Constituent Assembly last year, social media was ablaze while the roads and public places were relatively quiet. An increasing number of people were making fun of our leaders and their inability to draft a constitution through distorted images, graphics, cartoons, poems, jokes and comics. The naked dissatisfaction of the times came out through more subtle ways, often laden with creativity and cleverness.
One example was a digitally-altered image entitled Loot, apparently inspired by a popular Nepali movie, that featured prominent Nepali politicians like Prachanda, Baburam Bhattarai, Jhala Nath Khanal, Madhav Nepal, Sushil Koirala and Sujata Koirala. This image was massively shared on Facebook following the demise of the Constituent Assembly. Other similar images shared online include portrayals of Prachanda, Bijay Gachhadar and Ram Chandra Poudel as “killers” of the constitution, a dog defecating on the photographs of leaders with “A dog has more knowledge than us” under it. Likewise, another altered picture showed leaders with garlands of shoes as gifts from people. “Such light mockery and fun is better than vandalising public property. People give those leaders votes, time, money and patience but they failed to give the people anything in return so such depictions are justifiable,” said Rumi Shrestha, an MBS student at Golden Gate Campus and a social media enthusiast.
With the wide penetration of the internet and increasing use of smartphones, the use of social networking sites like Facebook, which has around 1.5 million users in the country, and Twitter have risen. Partly due to the increasing number of users and people’s detest of aggression and confrontation, there has been a substantial change in the meaning of activism.
Just take the ongoing nationwide campaign against gender-based violence, which erupted out of Twitter before landing down on the streets. The world of social media has become synonymous with the world of ideas and thoughts, creativity and mockery. Everything in the virtual world seems to be a different manifestation of the same things we notice in reality.
According to analysts, social media use is expanding in Nepal and has not been exploited properly. With the gradual rise in literacy rates, increasing access to mobile phones and computers and the changing definition of communication, there is enough ground to evaluate the expanding influence of social networking in Nepal. However, even with these advancements, most leaders in the country are still far behind the times. Except for savvy leaders like Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who is on Twitter as @brb_laldhoj, and Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa, most don’t have Facebook or Twitter accounts. Nepali are making use of social media to poke fun and capitalise on the failings of their leaders. The anonymity of the internet means that individuals are free to criticise and satirise without fear of reprisal. Criticism has almost become a work of art. Consider this question: “Nepal ma kun dhan faldaina?” The answer: “Sambidhan.”
Along the same lines, a post went up calling for applicants to the post of political leader. The requirements: thick hair, thick moustache, the ability to pull off wearing sunglasses all the time, fluent speakers in front of the TV and on video and the ability to weep while laughing.
According to media analysts, such creative criticism is not only free of any form of violence, damage and loss but is also a good way to release anger and frustration. It is an indication of how the younger generation, tired of violence and protests, is picking up new means to make their voices heard. Considering the strength these networking sites have acquired over the years, it would not be farfetched to surmise that they will no longer remain a mere communication platform but a place to kindle mass campaigns and movements through the easy sharing of ideas and opinions.
Posted on: 2013-02-11 09:30