Digital Sparks

June 15, 2024by Rajeev Hora9

It is often not about the possibility of sparks but about their inevitability.

We all love to observe human nature and the impact of social media on our daily lives. Last few weeks have however been quite a revelation for me. Two WhatsApp groups of whom I am a member, are going through their acrimonious best. People have been vociferously vocal, abusive, judgemental, and literally at each other’s throats.

All in all, a naked display of intense negativity by people who are normally quite nice. Their online behaviour is somehow not in synch with their regular selves. Not that the propaganda-driven polarisation during the recent elections has helped matters in any way.

As a starting point for discussion, we must charitably start with the hypothesis that each one of us is absolutely right. And rightfully so, when we look at things through our own perspectives. The problem however occurs when we refuse to view the world through any other lenses except our own.

There are indeed no absolute rights or wrongs in this world. We all live in the grey. Even for extreme offences like rape, apartheid, racism and slavery, historically speaking, people have had justifications to condone these abominable acts.

Each one of us on these groups and forums is actually a very tiny influencer. Transmitting and receiving information at the same time, we are getting influenced ourselves and influencing others at the same time.

Sam, a media watcher says, “What I already know, I already know. By listening to what others have to say, I get a different perspective or a contra-opinion. It is for me to choose to align with this new paradigm or discard it. There are only choices to be made and no compulsions whatsoever in making them.”

“However, by shouting down a thought which is in variance, one misses out on a golden opportunity to learn from differentials. It is this comparison which forms the fundamental bedrock of learning and growth. The intellectual journey from ‘who is right’ to ‘what is right’ can be a very long one for some people.”

“A thought of a new thought can sometimes be intimidating. However, by aggressively reacting towards newer considerations and possibilities, we actually reveal our inherent fears and insecurities.”

Everyone believes that they have adequate knowledge, experience and a ‘right to conviction’. In any case, none of us want any more knowledge to be thrust down our throats. An age-old saying is that, ‘more control is less control’. So, attempts to control the narrative by shouting louder will always be counterproductive. In fact, they are likely to provoke a violent response from equally combative ‘friends turned foes’.

WhatsApp type communication has a different and unique set of dynamics. In groups without a shared history or with a rather vintage history, there are voids of context. People do not know where you are coming from, leave alone having an appreciation of your sense of humour and ideologies.

Democratic freedom gives us the right to offend but also expects us to bear counter-offensives with grace. But social media does not bother about such poise and elegance. The ability to engage and the power to spit gets unleashed at the drop of a hat. It is the instant reactive mechanism inbuilt in such a medium that is the root cause of our explosions. Insensitive, thoughtless and tactless, it does not take much to bring out our worst. It is often not about the possibility of sparks but about their inevitability.

They say that the best way to make a person our enemy is to say that he is wrong. Armed with an opinion about everything and charged with a will to express it, it has become so easy for faceless trolls to act rabidly. They act with an assumed ownership of a virtual territory and are immune to a fear of consequence. Not discounting the intra-group affiliations which stand up in mutual defence, if one of their kin is attacked.

Some people bring out the best in you and some the worst in you. The challenge is to guard and retain your self-belief against what others think of you. In Richard Bach’s terms, “If you let yourself be impacted by what people think of you and your beliefs, then you certainly have a problem”.

How do I then deal with them? “‘Dead bat’ them with soft hands like Rahul Dravid used to do to the fiercest of pacers” says John, a social media professional. “Any indication that they have breached your defence is an invitation for more. The net is a coal mine or sometimes a wild forest. Please enter at your own risk. By unleashing tirades on others, your own glass house is never going to be safe.”

Communication is about exchanging information with the maximum amount of fidelity. The catch is that the transmitters and receivers are grossly different beings who are subject to their individual moods, environment and tribulations.

Ria, a HR trainer says, “A classic rhetorical triangle of communication has three sides, ‘Ethos, Pathos, Logos’. Ethos refers to the position and credibility of the speaker. Pathos refers to his empathetic nature and the will to listen to other people with a genuine aim to understand. Lastly, logos is about sharing your logic and reasoning. The beauty about the concept is that this sequence cannot be violated if communication is to succeed to a reasonable degree.”

“On the social media front, there is rarely a chance to go through this cycle in deliberate motion. Memories of yester years are not sufficient to establish credibility. People change not only with time but also with circumstances. Invariably, people rush to present their logic by jumping the queue in the fastest finger mode. The results are predictable and there for everyone to see.”

That reminds me how a CO had introduced a Round Table Concept (RTC) in his squadron. Essentially, it was a brain storming model for seeking solutions on the professional and social front. The coordinator would introduce the problem statement or issue at hand. Each officer in turn was thereafter encouraged to present his individual opinion, not influenced by rank, seniority or fear of being mocked/ ridiculed.

The rules of the game were that after a person had shared his views, no one in the room could contest the logic presented or utter, “I disagree with that”. The next person had the liberty to either agree or share his views, which could be radically different. It was a forum of total respect. The ultimate decision arrived at by convergence of thoughts usually used to be well-rounded and generally acceptable to the house. Even if it was not, no one could ever say that they had not been heard.

John adds to my ruminations, “Some similar rules of acceptable behaviour and ‘mutual respect’ need to be evolved in every group at the formation stage itself. Thereafter, they need to be enforced and reiterated by the ‘admins’ at regular intervals. If a particular member is tending to go off-track, it is best to give a timely nudge through a private message. We all have egos and would not like to be publicly censured. Also, very few people are courageous enough to apologize on a social media forum.”

“If the toxic behaviour continues unabated, it would be appropriate to first post a gentle cautionary message on the forum. Something like a sports Yellow Card. Harsh measures like eliminating guys from the group should be a rare exception. However, if that stage has ever been reached, it could also be indicative of neglect or indifference on part of the ‘admin’.”

To disagree without being disagreeable is a very fine art as it is. It is almost becoming impossible while navigating through a digital world.

The bottom line however remains as ever:
At times, we have to value the relationship more than our convictions.

Treading carefully,
Horax (Casper)

First published at on 15 Jun 24.

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  • Hari kumar

    June 15, 2024 at 6:53 am

    Wonderfully written. Logical and to the point. I doubt any one can contradict it with better clarity.


  • Anurag

    June 15, 2024 at 6:56 am

    Sir .. This is the ‘GOLD STANDARD’!!
    100% required in today’s connected
    world. I am convinced that this write up will stand test of time and can be read as a monthly pledge for all SM users.

    It’s brilliance par excellence!!!


  • Maj Gen Arvind Bhatia AVSM retd

    June 15, 2024 at 6:56 am

    Wonderfully and sensitively discussed a very topical issue in today’s world. We experience it everyday….my way or the highway on social media platforms are sure recipe for acrimonious diatribe and fruitless tangentially aligned debates….kudos sir….amongst your very best …🌈🥂


  • Anonymous

    June 15, 2024 at 7:26 am

    Yes in Jainism it is called swat vyad, meaning there are different view points and solutions, by discussing and eliminating, right decision is made. Good read .


  • Tejinder Sareen

    June 15, 2024 at 8:47 am

    Excellent understanding of human nature and what maturity in relationship means.


  • Rakesh Srivastava

    June 16, 2024 at 2:13 am

    Spot on… Ethos, Pathos , Logos.
    People tend to be as polarised and as uncouth as the political leaders of the day….. unfortunately, we have some terrible role models there . Requires an effort to not have it percolate below your own levels of dignity and intelligence. Sadly, many fail.
    Ethos, pathos, logos .. in that order should keep our heads above the filth.


  • Pramod Athawale

    June 16, 2024 at 3:04 am

    Couldn’t agree with you more.
    Well said!


  • Captain sudhir mittal

    June 16, 2024 at 7:18 am

    Another insightful piece.
    It is amazing how untapped acquifers of ideas burst open in a brain storming session. And often through seemingly unrelated leads.


  • AVM C N Ranganath

    June 17, 2024 at 11:39 am

    Very lucidly articulated. The reality is that in the days to come technology will give us more and more powerful tools. AI is the latest and it may well become the proverbial frankenstein monster. I wonder if the Ethos, Pathos and Logos triangle will continue to remain so because all geometriic contours of communication will crumble with proliferation of AI. No one can be certain who is communicating., even to the extent of not knowing whether it is a human or a self perpetuating algorithm. I do not wish to be a doomsayer but, to say the least, we have very interesting days ahead. Perhaps, dementia may still soften the blow for my generation!


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