It takes just one.
One bad apple nestling among its rosy-cheeked neighbours can spoil the entire consignment. Just as one covid+ individual can infect dozens of others, similarly, one wrong message on social media can send the entire social media cosmos into a tailspin reproducing that message.
I’m sure many of us can speak with the voice of experience, of messages sent to the wrong person or on the wrong day, a typo that changed the entire meaning, or words that are just plain misinterpreted. Let me tell you of one such experience.
Today’s trigger-happy technology goes against that particular grain. So go ahead, send off your messages, and just keep your fingers crossed that they’re neither misinterpreted nor misdirected. Happy messaging!
I was wondering why my normally quiet I-pad was ringing and pinging the entire morning. I became wise to it much later, when I saw I’d been greeted with birthday wishes by someone on FB. That someone was the super-spreader. Seeing that message, dozens more wished me.
Now, it’s always nice to be sent wishes on your birthday, but the only problem was that this was NOT my birthday. My birthday was over two months away. But you know how it is on FB and social media in general, of news spreading like wildfire.
The second point I noted about social media messages is that you can’t undo what’s already been done. ‘THIS IS NOT MY BIRTHDAY’ I clarified, in bold capitals. ‘THANKS FOR THE WISHES, BUT IT’S STILL TWO MONTHS AWAY.’
My words fell on deaf ears — or should I say, eyes that could see or read, but were otherwise blind. The wishes continued.
Then, like the spread of the coronavirus from the bat to the pangolin to the human, similar wishes began in a Whatsapp group, a chirpy, happy bunch of over a hundred members. Around forty people wished me before I could convey to them that this was not the day. Would the deluge ever stop?
When yet another WhatsApp group wished me, I gave up and merely said a tired thanks. I’d aged prematurely, both mentally and physically. Let it be, I told myself, like that Beatles song of yore. There’s no stopping the monster once it’s unleashed.
Well, you can see how it just takes one. This is the hazard of social media, where rumours can take on their own life. No wonder WhatsApp now limits forwards to a total of five. And it is no wonder too that governments around the world come down hard on those who spread rumours.
This problem (of wishing me on the wrong date) could have been nipped in the bud if only people had heeded my words. But what is it about social media that makes you want to just say something, anything, to be seen and heard? No one wants to be left out of the race.
Old school game
In the past too, rumours ran riot, but never with such ease and speed. Remember that old school game, Chinese Whispers, where the first person in the line whispers a word or phrase into the ear of the second person, who then whispers it into the third person’s ear, and so on. The last person has to say what he or she has heard, and this is usually very different from the first person’s phrase.
Social media is something like Chinese whispers. If the ultimate result is comic, that’s fine, but often the outcome may be violent and tragic.
It’s not that there have never been message mix-ups in the past. Just watch some old movies, where the love letter flung from somewhere lands in the wrong hands! There are so many old films that exploit the comedy of this situation.
It sounds very sanctimonious to say we all have to think twice before sending out our messages. Today’s trigger-happy technology goes against that particular grain. So go ahead, send off your messages, and just keep your fingers crossed that they’re neither misinterpreted nor misdirected. Happy messaging!
Padmini Sankar is a freelance writer, and author of ‘The Mother of all Parties.’