Over the last ten-fifteen years, we have been victims of numerous bandhs forced upon us simple folks by hordes of howling mobs, and those were the years when one wondered if it was the mob that was directing the affairs of the country. “Bheed tantra”, people used to say sarcastically. That was what prajantra (democracy) had transformed into.

Thankfully, we have had a period of peace for some time now, with “bandh” becoming the most unpopular word in the Nepali dictionary. Yet, to the observant eye, one can see that “bheed tantra” has not disappeared; actually, it has taken a new form, and is more deadly today due to a dangerous mutation. The new form of “bheed tantra” is social media. A new kind of mob mentality has taken hold, and it is something that is affecting all countries throughout the world, particularly those that are said to be more open to democratic ideals.

Now, affairs of the state are being directed by trolls on social media sites, fueled even more by so-called on-the-spot polling on issues encompassing everything under the sun. For those interested, here’s the definition of troll, “a person who sows discord on the internet by starting quarrels or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.” Policies are being made based on the endless chattering on the net, further complicated by the mischievous antics of roguish bots. For those interested, bot means, “a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the internet.”

It is also not difficult to understand that there is endless scope for manipulation on social media sites, with the result that what is in essence a mob has now become even more of a mindless one. For those interested, mob means, “a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence.” Such is the world we live in today, with value being given on the number of ‘followers’, ‘likes’, ‘views’, and interaction (meaning also, trolls). Funnily, even when one finds numerous sites promising thousands of ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ for a small fee, and knowing well enough how almost all states are working overtime to change the optics through bots and state employees trolling and hacking non-stop, value is still being given to this new age “bheed tantra”.

Perhaps a time will come when people understand this new disease that can disrupt lives, relationships among people and among societies and nations, careers, and even the rare but good intentions of politicians. I don’t need to elucidate examples here, of which there are so many nowadays. Anyone with common sense can see what is going on; the new “bheed tantra” has led to the sowing of deep bitterness amongst people; there is a tremendous increase in biases to do with race, color, ethnicity, gender, politics, world views, societal values, religion, ad nauseam.

Like everything else—nuclear power, religion, politics, democracy, autocracy, communism, socialism, caste, creed, money, power, development, etc. etc.—there are always two sides to the subject, and naturally, one is positive and the other is negative. So it is with social media, which at first sight appears to be a most useful communication tool, but this very tool, if given free rein, will undoubtedly lead to grave consequences for the world and the times we live in today. Therefore, it’s time we “get it” about the new “bheed tantra” that can be become so negatively potent due to its very appearance of innocuousness.