Celebrities are soft targets, but is the solution running away from a platform giving them the freedom to express their views?

Why it doesnt make sense for the Nadigar Sangam to ask actors to get off social media
Voices Opinion Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 15:27

Actor Vishal, the Secretary of Tamil Nadu's association of actors, Nadigar Sangam, recently announced that the Sangam would request actors to step out of social media. 

Vishal's statement comes in the backdrop of the jallikattu protests, during which celebrities who had an association with the animal rights organisation, PETA, were mercilessly trolled and abused by the supporters of the sport. 

Their photographs and old videos were circulated online and within no time, memes and abusive messages began doing the rounds. Trisha, in particular, was subjected to toxic character assassination, as it often plays out on social media when the target happens to be female. 

Trisha later claimed that her account had been hacked, after a tweet expressing support for PETA appeared from her handle. Though she clarified that she supported jallikattu, the outrage refused to die down. Consequently, Trisha deactivated her social media accounts. 

Vishal, too, did the same, following this up with a press statement clarifying his stance. 

Seeing how rapidly things spiraled out of control, the Nadigar Sangam's call to return to traditional journalism to avoid misrepresentation might seem like the rational thing to do. 

But in this day and age, when everyone from Donald Trump to Taher Shah is on social media, interacting with fans and detractors and sharing their views about whatever catches their attention, is such a move practical or desirable? 

Some years ago, when the social media explosion began, stars were happy to bypass "middlemen" (and women) journalists and speak their minds to the world without having to worry about a quote getting chopped to cause maximum sensation. 

They could promote their film's posters, teasers, trailers, songs, and what have you, and within seconds, thousands of their faithful followers would RT/Share them to ensure maximum reach. Social media brought down the walls between celebrities and their fans, giving both sides an opportunity to interact directly.

Of course, such interactions are not always pleasant. Actor Shruti Haasan, for instance, was stalked on social media by an obsessed fan who issued death threats when she did not respond. 

In Kerala, Manju Warrier faced virulent abuse after the news of her separation from Dileep became public. And ironically, the same happened to Kavya Madhavan when she married Dileep last year and the social media tide turned in favour of Manju. 

Dangal actor, Zaira Wasim, got a taste of the ugly side of social media when she was trolled recently for meeting Mehbooba Mufti, the CM of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Then there are the online celebrity standoffs that we journalists love so much: Sania Mirza Vs Sanjay Manjrekar, Virender Sehwag Vs Piers Morgan, and closer home... Lakshmy Ramakrishnan Vs Rest of the World. 

There are numerous instances of social media abuse and trolling, whether it's seemingly harmless ones like #Shilpashettyreviews or nasty ones involving rape and death threats. And this happens to any known face, not only actors. 

But is the solution to this running away from the platform? When director Suraj made a crass comment about heroines, Tamannaah, who had starred in his most recent film, tweeted her disappointment and anger. The issue caught fire and spread far and wide on social media and refused to die down till the filmmaker issued a formal apology. 

Even though Kollywood queen Nayanthara, who is not on social media, was quick to slam his comments, her words might have been lost if not for the support that poured in online. 

Surely, Suraj was the not the first person from the industry to harbour such a thought or even express it. What has changed is the medium of discourse and the accessibility that stars and their fans enjoy, making it difficult for any well-known person to make irresponsible statements and get away without generating outrage and discussion. 

Even in the jallikattu issue, Trisha received support from stars like Kamal Haasan and Arvind Swami who spoke up against the misogynistic attacks she faced. Their voices many not have drowned out the abuse, but how often have we seen male stars speaking up for their female colleagues, especially when they are seen to hold the opposite point of view? (And hopefully, they will speak up more often).

During the Chennai floods of December 2015, celebrities like RJ Balaji (who is now an actor as well) and actor Siddharth used social media effectively to mobilise relief measures and network with various groups working to alleviate the sufferings of the people. 

Siddharth was the only actor from Kollywood who, in a series of tweets, openly acknowledged the problem of how stalking is depicted in films after the gruesome murder of IT employee Swati in Chennai last year. Despite being a lonely industry voice, his comments validated the concerns many had raised about the representation of women and consent in Tamil cinema.  

Now, too, the support from the industry for the pro-jallikattu protests has lent greater credibility to the movement at the national level. Their calls for peace may have been trolled by some but at least, the information spreads quickly because of the kind of following that they have. 

Social media is a double-edged sword but it's one that's here to stay. Even if the actors themselves get off it, as public figures, their photos and videos will still do the rounds – remember, the Internet never forgets. And they only stand to lose a good platform to express or defend themselves freely whenever a controversy breaks out. 

The Nadigar Sangam will do well not to overreact to recent events and choose to confront the issue of online abuse by lending support to each other instead. That's the kind of jallikattu the situation demands. 

Note: Views expressed are the personal opinions of the author.

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