The social media news – Dalit Desk, or a medium to tell stories from a Dalit’s desk, an online news organisation was started by Sahil Valmiki in 2019 on Instagram and Youtube. “The stories that I am able to tell on my social media platform, cannot be told on a traditional media platform. Traditional media is upper-caste dominated,” said Valimiki.
“The selection to ‘upper-caste media’ is caste based. When your CV reaches there, it gets rejected just by looking at your surname. Even if you get there, you get harassed. They won’t let you tell these stories,” he said.
A 2019 report that set out to study the representation of caste in Indian media suggested severe underrepresentation of marginalized groups in the Indian media. The report ‘Who Tells Our Stories Matters: Representation of Marginalised Caste Groups in Indian Newsrooms,’ said “Of the 121 newsroom leadership positions—editor-in-chief, managing editor, executive editor, bureau chief, input/output editor—across the newspapers, TV news channels, news websites, and magazines under study, 106 are occupied by journalists from the upper castes, and none by those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes,” according to Newslaundry.
Dalit Desk initially started as a blog to vent and write on issues of caste and gender. As readership grew, the platform, run by a two person team, started ground reporting and presenting news, according to Valmiki.
“Bahujan media should become mainstream media. The verification of facts and quality check that we do is to make sure that we are at level with mainstream media platforms so that people can consume our media,” he added.
With social media journalism the platforms have become more diversified and benefit various communities. It is a great step toward democratisation, said Rituparna Chatterjee, the Deputy Asia Editor at The Independent. “Having said that, the news still has to be fact checked. That has suffered a great deal. The thin line that divided news from opinion has gotten more blurred (with the coming of social media journalism),” she added.
Vimoh, an Instagram account that shares short opinion pieces on current issues was started by Vijayendra Mohanty. It now has over 26,000 followers on Instagram alone.
“Anything that I write gets at least 1000 likes and over 200 shares on Instagram” said Mohanty. His one person team on social media works because “there is a need for people to hear what he has to say,” he added.
On the other hand, “Media organisations have an entire editorial team and infrastructure. But they don’t do good because they have less than honourable intentions,” said Mohanty. “‘Mainstream news sources’ are no longer doing the news, they’re doing propaganda,” he added.
However “I don’t want to claim the label of journalists because there are actual journalists who do ground reporting,” Mohanty said. “What I do have is years of experience in journalism and social media,” he added.
Mohanty also discourages people from using him as the source for information. “I write about something that is in the news, but I don’t give the news. I analyse it,” he said.
Ramit Verma, a 29 year old Youtuber and founder of Peeing Human is banking on the trend that there is a new social media generation that wants to consume news online in a short format, according to Verma. Official Peeing Human, with over three hundred and fifty-thousand followers on Instagram makes videos on everyday news while also doing media analysis for a social media audience.
“People aren’t watching TV news like before. So I give them the media round up every day within a minute,” said Verma. “What I am doing is coming from a sense of responsibility. Even though I have the freedom to say what I want to say, I try to say things that are fact checked and I am sure of,” he added.
On Peeing Human’s Instagram page, a video called ‘PM Modi and Varanasi,’ a critique of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in India has over three lakh views. Another video explaining the Hathras rape case titled ‘Truth VS UP Yogi Govt,’ has over two lakh views.
“Social media bezubaano ka awaz bana,” (Social media became the voice of the voiceless), said Basant Kumar, correspondent at Newslaundry, an independent digital news publication. “However we need to remember that activism and journalism are two different things. In activism one always bends toward one side, and that’s not the brief of a journalist,” he added.
When someone is out there with only a phone and a mic, you might get videos that are completely baseless. “This is because there is no editorial policy or responsibility, according to Kumar. We have to be careful about only giving correct and contextual information to our audience,” he said.
In the absence of an editorial infrastructure on social media the audience becomes the editorial team, according to Anurag Verma who goes by Anurag Minus Verma on social media and has around 20,000 followers on Instagram. He is also a podcaster, and his show the Anurag Minus Verma podcast was featured in Apple’s top political podcasts in India.
Verma does political commentary and satire that comes from the perspective of being a Dalit, according to him. Through his podcast he is “trying to bring people who have something to say but are never in the limelight,” he said. In addition to the podcast, he also makes video diaries that are short documentaries based on everyday life.
“Self censorship is always there while making content online. If you do something stupid, your audience will leave you because they are directly in contact with you, unlike mainstream media,” said Verma. “Self censorship through the audience is a better way to filter yourself rather than advertising or a corporate censoring you.”
Verma’s content runs through audience donation and takes money through platforms like Patreon and Buy me a coffee.
“Through my platform, I am trying to critique caste and the Brahmanical society,” Verma said. “Social media is different from a sophisticated form of media where you can only say selected things. The things I talk about on my podcast cannot be said on mainstream media.”
There are also various challenges to creating “political” content on social media. “The government is challenging this space for us by banning accounts and sending legal notices,” said Verma.
In a few recent incidents, Twitter has been in a struggle with the Indian government over the compliance of the new IT rules.
According to a Hindustan Times report there has been a rise in the number of orders issued by the central government to social media companies to take down posts and accounts under Section 69(A) of the Information Technology Act, 2000, over the last couple of years, with nearly 6,000 orders issued until the first week of June this year.
“The orders were sent to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Telegram. 99% of the orders have been complied with,” the report said.
Social media has come under the radar of the government as the consumption of news through these platforms is increasing.
There are individuals who present news in a different way but do not make news. But if these individuals are around news and they are breaking it to the audience, then they automatically become journalists. You can’t say you are not a journalist, according to Chatterjee. “People should be able to do news in whatever way that works for them and their communities,” she said. #livehyd