The (Twitter) world doesn’t revolve around Smriti Irani’s back

Note: The title is a play on Smriti Irani telling Sagarika Ghose, on Twitter, not to be a ‘coward’ and talk (tweet) behind her back, without tagging her handle.

You may have noticed a fine print in some television commercials (TVCs) which goes, ‘Creative representation’. This usually appears when there’s a giant teeth on the screen with 50+ tiny germs on it, and after applying a brand of toothpaste, there are only 2 germs left. Or, when a little kid is rejected from some activity in school and when he returns after drinking a brand of malt-based chocolate drink, he is a few inches taller and gets the best of everything in school.

So, in that glorious tradition (also by Ogilvy, of course, where I work – we’re all trying to make a point, you see), read the following scene.

New Delhi. Winter. A lovely party is in progress. The best of alcohol and food. People generally seem happy.

Sagarika Ghose is holding fort in a small group, in one corner. About 10-12 people are listening to her talk about something, when she casually says, “Did you know… Smriti Irani says charges are “blasphemous”! Erm..blasphemy? As in an act of insulting God?”.

Someone from the group offers something in response, and one more adds another perspective to it.

Suddenly, from a nearby group, in the same large lawn, they hear a loud voice. Apparently Smriti Irani herself is in that group and she got to know from someone who was briefly in Sagarika’s group, and moved to the Smriti Group on the way to refill her glass of wine, and informed Smriti about Sagarika’s quip. That riled Smriti and she shouted, “Hey Sagarika, if you have something to tell me, tell it to me in my face. Only cowards speak behind the back! And yes, have a good day!”.

<end of creative representation>

Now, do you think this is possible in the real world? Actually yes… this did happen. On Twitter. Notice this conversation.


The thing is, my post is not about Smriti or Sagarika’s quips at all, though I’m forced to add that I’m amazed at the consistency with which Sagarika brings religion, in some form, into every random topic. I assume religion is the new tomato sauce… goes well with anything!

But I digress. My post is about a simple fallacy that people assume on Twitter – that you have to tag someone if you are talking about them.

Not necessarily.

You can talk about someone without tagging them. Why? Because,
a. You are not looking for a response from that person.
b. You do not care whether that person would/would not know that you are talking about him/her.
c. You are looking for reactions from your friends and followers, not that person.

In essence, the tweet is about you, showcasing your query and seeking a reaction for yourself. It is not about the person being spoken about.

This is not #slytweet, yet. Sly tweets are more about not naming someone and leaving a trail of clues. Here, Sagarika has named Smriti up-front, but she did not tag her. Because… the 3 reasons above.

There is no reason to assume that Sagarika was being cowardly or sly here at all. It’s a public tweet. Smriti would come to know of it if she (or her team) did a simple name search on Twitter. So, it is not as if Sagarika was out to hide who she was referring to. Only thing – she was looking for reactions from a different set of people, not necessarily Smriti. If she did, she would have either called up Smriti on phone, or tagged her, of course.

The trouble is, it is very easy to assume that the world revolves around you, on Twitter. I’m guilty of this too – I say something, I notice someone else refer to something that sounds like an opinion on my quip, and I assume that person is talking about me, when in fact that person may not be at all.

These are nuances of many-to-many communication that we need to get better at. Many-to-many is the hallmark of social media platforms – it is where individuals and brands (and media houses, Governments, leaders etc.) are a tiny speck in the overall stream of conversations. The conversations keep happening, you may or may not surface in it. If you do, don’t assume it is all about you – it may not be. And the people indulging in that conversation may get over it very fast since there are so many things to talk about anyway. And yes, many-to-many, with asynchronous communication (difference in timing even in conversations) can make things all the more messy.

But this is also why Twitter is fascinating! It makes you believe you are in a conversation, with a few/lot of people, in your own time. But you are also talking to the public, who you do not follow/know at all. It’s bewilderingly interesting!

In this conversation, Smriti’s next tweet to Sagarika should ideally be her first response, in my opinion, given that she explains her stand on using the word ‘blasphemy’ (it is obvious she’s sticking to the dictionary meaning of the word, while Sagarika is sticking to the commonly-understood meaning of the word – different agendas, as always) and moves the conversation forward with the knowledge of both Sagarika and herself flowing in a larger conversation, and not necessarily talking to each other. This is public posturing, from both the women, not really a conversation anymore. It never was, in the first place.


Notice how Sagarika moves on, on topic, without responding to the ‘kaayar’ insinuation (though the reaction was quite banal, IMO). With this,saga1

And then, in true Sagarika style, it all goes downhill. We have ‘talibanisation’, eventually.