Your demise can be declared and your revival orchestrated all within a single viral minute, as attention-seeker Poonam Pandey exemplifies. Pandey and her publicity stunts, such as pledging to strip if the Indian cricket team emerged victorious, merit no genuine attention.
However, the prevalent phenomenon of fleeting attention spans across the globe, fuelled by social media, continuous scrolling, and mainstream media’s reliance on social media claims, commonly known as fake news, should concern us all.
In the era preceding social media, the demise of a public figure was solemnly acknowledged, and reserved for those who achieved notable feats. Newspapers meticulously archived pre-written obituaries, chronicling significant milestones in the life of the departed.
Now, a social media proclamation of succumbing to cervical cancer spurred the entire Indian media into action. Personally, I remained sceptical and refrained from acknowledging it, even on my social media platforms. A mere day later, the “celebrity” resurfaced, attributing the entire episode to a stunt aimed at highlighting cervical cancer awareness.
No, attention-seeker, it was a ploy to garner attention for yourself, the lifelong pursuit of your existence. Collectively, the Indian media were left embarrassed as an “influencer” ruthlessly sought her 5 minutes of fame and validation.
In today’s world, anyone armed with a mobile phone can proclaim themselves a “journalist”. What is even more crucial in today’s contaminated news environment is a gatekeeper with traditional journalistic values.
A free press not only represents the fourth pillar of democracy but is also essential in a world inundated with viral misinformation. The easiest task in today’s world is to become ensnared in an echo chamber that validates personal biases. Bias cannot substitute for news.
“I am a liver”
Andy Warhol famously said, “Everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Warhol implied that from media scandals to memes, all celebrities will experience fleeting fame. This particularly resonates with the generation raised on social media — the incessant drive to create a viral reel has been accompanied by tragedies, such as children being harmed while attempting dangerous stunts for online fame.
Ubiquity is paramount. This brings us to the Orhan Awatramani or Orry phenomenon, captivating all of India, including the media. Esteemed celebrities like superstar actor Salman Khan and director Karan Johar have featured Orry on their shows, posing the question: what does Orry do? Orry responded with characteristic vagueness. To Johar, he said “I try hard”; to another, he claimed “I am a liver”; and to Khan, he replied, “I work on myself”.
I am intrigued by Orry. If only we all could enjoy the privilege of being “livers”, photographed with A-list celebrities while enjoying life to the fullest.
Vigilance is essential
But Orry’s depiction, befriending celebrities while adorned in designer attire and professionally groomed, remains unattainable for most. Yet, social media tantalisingly suggests otherwise. The media, obligated to separate substance from fluff, eagerly showcases “airport looks” and fawns over curated Instagram posts. Reality is marginalised to single-column stories.
As Pandey led us on a collective journey, introspection became imperative. The media must reclaim its credibility. News cannot be distilled from Instagram. Although Pandey’s episode was a complete hoax, confirmed by her manager who announced her death, the media could do little to prevent it. Nonetheless, it serves as a wake-up call.
Even if the fake news emanates from the individual in question, vigilance is essential. I recall the fiasco when respected publications like Stern of Germany and the London Sunday Times fell for the Hitler diaries hoax in 1983, paying over a million pounds to serialise fabricated diaries attributed to Hitler.
The media of that era learnt invaluable lessons from the debacle. Today, we must cease outsourcing news production to social media platforms. And, as you, dear readers, must always remember: preserve scepticism and trust only credible information.