Has social media divided society: JLF comes to an end with fiery debate

Manish Sain

Jaipur, Jan 27 (PTI) Is it the 'IT cell' or the 'troll army' that has ruined a medium meant to connect the world, or is social media just a reflection of humanity's eternal deep and dark realities and is harmless in itself? With this fiery debate witnessing panelists as well as audience getting divided in opinion, the 13th edition of Jaipur Literature Festival came to a close here on Monday.

The annual literary festival, which began in the Pink City on January 23, saw the closing debate among authors, mathematicians, and journalists arguing on the topic 'Social Media Has Divided Society'.

Novelist and journalist John Lanchester said in his argument that social division has been as old as the society itself and social media has only amplified this division.

'It is not a coincidence that polarisation has only increased after social media. Social media is used to make targeted attacks at minorities, because it knows what your interests are, it knows who you are,' said the author of 'The Wall'.

Journalist-author Rana Ayyub said the medium, while 'united the haters', has been essential in informing people about the wrongs of the government.

'Rioters divided my family and the society in Bombay riots, there was no social media. In 2002 Gujarat I saw the polarisation of the society, there was no social media. What you see happening on social media is the reflection of what the society already is.

'We got to know about the power of Shaheen Bagh because of social media... Social media has given us information that television channels might not have told us,' the author of 'Gujarat Files' said.

The debate also saw arguments from senior journalists Siddharth Vardarajan, Nilanjana Roy, Faye D'Souza, author Makarand Paranjape, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and economist Mihir Sharma.

The award winning author and mathematician, Sautoy, argued that social media 'certainly amplifies ideas', but divisions are not caused by it.

'It is very easy to blame social media and I think we have already begun to hear that a lot of the divisions are not because of social media. For example, the Brexit debate was not influenced by people being told what to think (through) social media. It was influenced by the terrible austerity that our government brought on our country,' the British author said.

Before bringing the festival to a close, co-founder and writer William Dalrymple also announced the expected speakers for the next year's edition.

He announced that science fiction writer Neil Gaiman, writer of TV show 'The Crown' Peter Morgan, Booker winner George Saunders, rapper Akala, British politician Claire Wright, author Robert Macfarlane, American author Lawrence Wright, British artist Edmund de Waal, Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin, British writers Hermione Lee, Robert Harris, and French author Amin Maalouf will be among several others to join the JLF 2021. PTI MAH TIR