Former US president Barack Obama has some sane advice for political leaders everywhere—he cautions them to be mindful of their use of social media and not get too immersed in it as it could distort their perception of the world outside. Obama, of course, didn’t directly name current president Donald Trump, who seems have made his presence on Twitter a defining feature of his presidency. Trump happily retweets endorsement of the latest tax-cut legislation his party pushed through, but whether he sees this as vox populi is not something than can be answered by a person other than Trump himself. However, going by his speeches and press interactions, there are more reasons to believe that Trump’s sense of what Americans want may be warped by what he is fed on Twitter by his fans.
Dwelling in echo-chambers is a real danger for any politician worth his salt, no matter what political belief he subscribes to. However, the concern for leaders, especially those who want to go down in history as statesmen, goes much beyond just their own social media presence. Like Obama pointed out in his interview with Prince Harry, the need for leadership is to ensure that the internet doesn’t lead to balkanisation of societies. There is a need to ensure that “a multiplicity of voices are allowed” on the interenet as are “diversity of views”, but this doesn’t translate into polarisation on ground. The Indian political leadership, across the ideological spectrum, would do well to pay heed. This would help avoid the kind of communal violence that Uttar Kannada witnessed earlier this month—sparked by a state legislator’s tweet , the contents of which were later proved to be unsubstantiated—as also the senseless political violence in Kerala, where political parties of opposing ideologies have shared gory pictures of victims of such violence with the aim to take political high-ground. Sadly, all this has done so far is fan another round of revenge killings/attacks.