As I type this, my body sighs from the exhaustion of a day spent by my daughter’s bedside. She’s been suffering from a severe attack of indigestion and it’s taken its toll on her.

Throwing up anything solid or liquid that enters her system, she’s reduced to a shell of her usual smiling self. Last night, my heart filled with compassion as I watched her tiny body shivering from the weakness that the pain had left behind.

A low-grade fever made her groggy and unwilling to converse so we merely hugged one another and I said a prayer, hoping that she would get over this soon.

And this comes easily, almost naturally for most parents: this need to reach out, offer solace, provide comfort and succour in some form. Being compasstionate in person is much easier since we can see the person, touch her, engulf her in the magical embrace that drives pain away.

The same compassion, I find, is something we need to seek out online because it exists in mere pockets here and there.

A recent proposal to include books like Harry Potter, Tintin and Asterix in the ICSE syllabus from 2017 has been met with (mostly) delight from fans of the books around the world. An article on the subject was carried in a leading newspaper where a famous Indian actor, Shilpa Shetty, was quoted as saying that she believed that it was a good move.

As a part of her quote, she allegedly lauded ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell, saying it could be included in the curriculum as it may help children be compassionate towards animals.

This gaffe was taken up by Twitter and Facebook and as expected, people had a field day with it. Out came the pitchforks and the angst that a person had found Orwell to be a children’s author. A  hash tag was created for the sole purpose of giving alternative, dumbed-down interpretations of book titles.

Essentially, what they did was judge a book by its cover. Literally and metaphorically. Twitter erupted in laughs, sarcasm, barbs and more. I leave the rest to your imagination.

I watched the drama unfold on social media. I saw people sharing views and counter views on a person’s limited understanding of books. I found a handful of people pause and actually say that perhaps:

A) She didn’t say what she supposedly did.

B) There may have been a mistake (deliberate/otherwise) on the part of the media house that printed the ‘review.’

But, that is what I wish everyone had done, not merely a handful who paused to say, ‘Maybe there’s more to this story.’

Imagine a child or a teen waking up to the realisation that their knowledge or lack of it was being belittled on a public stage. Picture to yourself going up to perform, nervousness overcoming you and then the entire audience bursts into laughter because you forgot the words or fumbled the lines. Confused, upset and humiliated, a child loses confidence and stays away from performing for a long time again.

Now, translate that image to social media and an adult. How is it any different? Why is this not cyberbullying or trolling?

If the hash tag had been something different, say, just ‘literal’ book reviews, it may have gone down better with me. But, to drag a person down for her lack of sufficient knowledge or to make her squirm by saying ‘You’re such a loser’ is akin to playground bullying and let’s not call it anything else.

Compassion is necessary as we navigate the choppy waters of social media. We need one another, let’s not forget that. In our aim to be part of the herd,let’s not get carried away and use a hash tag or scorn somebody for the fleeting pleasure that it gives us.

Your twenty seconds of joy can cause another a lifetime of pain. 

*Update: From an article in DNA: “Her agency then gave a clarification saying that it was their fault as they relied on Google search to know about books on caring for animals and farming! The blame game resulted in one hapless PR executive losing the job.” 

Full article here: Shilpa Shetty trolled, PR executive loses job. 

Featured image courtesy: Shutterstock

18 thoughts on “Are we compassionate on social media?

  1. Hadn’t followed this hashtag but did hear of the whole episode and the apparent blunder by the PR. But leaving this aside, yes I agree, that element of compassion seldom lurks in the folds of Social media. There is a sort of bullying that happens, especially if the person concerned is a well known personality. I often try to ponder over it, wondering whats the thrill one gets of it. Maybe it stems from getting that few minutes of fame through the tweets and posts one makes…

  2. Hope Gy is fit and fine by now.
    I did feel for Shilpa Shetty. The more rich and famous a person is the greater the pleasure in bringing him/her down. It’s like ‘you may be a film star but I’m smarter than you.’ Sigh! The tweets were pretty vicious. We really do need to cut people some slack. And I’ll admit this is what scares me about twitter, specially. Before you know it things are spiralling out of control.

  3. This reminded me of Alia, oh how social media trolled her. They even made FB pages on her name for trolls. How easy it is for people to point fingers at others, never occuring to them what it’d be like if those fingers were pointed at self instead. Compassion isn’t so hard to show either, if only we could see more of it in this world.

  4. Love that you took the time to write about this, but then that is just like you <3. I hope Gy is back to her usual sunny (and talkative ;)) self soon.
    About the controversy itself, I agree that there's something fishy there. Did she say it? In which case what was the editor doing printing something like this without fact checking?! The only reason could be blatant publicity seeking, which wouldn't surprise me about TOI sadly. Did she not say it, and was instead terribly misquoted? An even bigger responsibility to TOI – they are answerable to clear the air I say.

  5. Highlights everything that’s wrong with showbiz? That’s a pretty large brush to paint with, right? I’d say that speak only when 100% right should apply to everyone, not just celebrities. We all have a responsibility. Also, if you read her own tweet, she claims she hasn’t read the books. So I smell something fishy here with regard to what TOI has done.

  6. Well said Jaibala. Completely in agreement with you here.

    For celebrities, it’s more important to be responsible and speak only when they are 100% sure about something.

    Ms. Shetty’s ignorance further highlights everything wrong with showbiz, and will make every George Orwell fan go “WTF!”

  7. Oh hugs. I hope Gy feels better soon.
    Compassion is such an easy thing to express and feel for someone as a human being and yet not many people are willing or care enough to be bothered by it. I do believe it is a trait of evolved individuals, of those who are perspective-taking and have empathic concern for others. By this, I am not saying that some are incapable of compassion (although they exist too), just that, expressing it may be more challenging to some than others.
    To your example though, social media has an uncanny but often representative way of showing us what humans are really like…behind our facades and outward goodness in person.

  8. I hear you, Shailaja. It’s so embarrassing to find out that you were wrong on a public forum. Add to that you’re a public figure yourself. Not everybody had read literature and there’s no need to mock them for not having read. Having said that public figures need to be more careful and responsible since they are under always under a microscope. There’s no need to comment on every topic especially if you know little about it. Everybody seems to be an expert on all topics on social media and the few people who think before they speak online are left with no words today.

  9. I saw both her tweets and retweeted them too. Somewhere I feel there is a gap in this story’s narrative. She says she hasn’t read the books. The newspaper prints her views on them. Something odd , I feel.

    Thank you for the concern, Rachna. She appears to be improving today. 🙂

  10. I saw those tweets and retweeted both of them. That alone makes me wonder at the veracity of the review posted by the newspaper. And of course, fault lies on both sides. Always. Not denying that. Just wish people would think before indulging in knee-jerk reactions.

  11. I do hope Gy is doing better. It really takes a toll on the parent when a child is sick. Please do take care.

    About what you’ve said l’ll just say l feel exactly like Jaibala.

  12. Hope your daughter is fine now. We lack compassion in picking one thing where field day fun in bashing someone. It’s cowardice at its best. A really sad state how social media is becoming a bane.

  13. While I do agree, that Social media has become a playing field for every one who has or does not have a logical opinion to express one, and trolling and bullying are not alright, what I am going to say next is solely with respect to the example you quoted. Shilpa Shetty by her own admission (She tweeted it out last evening), has not read the books she was talking about and did not know their content. She said they were not her kind of books or something to that end. So I think she should have been more responsible in giving her statement especially because she is popular.

    So while opinions can and should be expressed freely, knowing what you are talking about is also important. As far as trolling and bullying goes, you know my thoughts on that and we have had long discussions about it. But in this case I think the fault lies on both the sides and not just the Social Media.

    I really hope Gy is feeling better now. Wishing her a speedy recovery and you a wonderful nap. 🙂

  14. That’s something I can so relate to, Shy!
    I know firsthand what such kind of ridicule can do to one’s psyche. From being ridiculed for choosing the subjects that I did, to being ridiculed for the lack of knowledge about certain things…I have faced all sorts of barbs..
    No one in the whole wide world is all-knowing , and if people who point fingers at others for their “ignorance” look within themselves, I am sure they will shut their mouths that very instant. But do we have it in us to look at ourselves before passing judgements on others? Some self-assessment is very necessary, no?

  15. You know, Shailaja. I was wondering the what the hashtag was about. It’s so easy to mock people. The problem with us is we think only we know the best and nobody else does. There is a think line between right and wrong. Yesterday, what happened was wrong. Imagine something like this happening to a kid on social media. How terrible. Why don’t we stop and think? And I don’t know about you but I have see people find it easy to target women on social media. Remember, Alia? While she had answered wrong, so had Varun Dhawan. But social media chose to make fun of her.

    Anyway, I hope GY feels better soon. Hugs to you too.

  16. Awww.. Hope she feels better soon..
    As for the Online world, it has begun to disgust me in ways I never knew was possible.. 90% of folks on it are just vying for attention.. Suddenly everybody is an economist commenting on modi, and another day expert on fidel Castro and yesterday was Shilpa shitty bashup.. They don’t think, care abt others but get some sadistic pleasure..

Comments are closed.