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Golmej 2020

Workplace colleagues have a tea break and a chai pe charcha on national news of the day. Friends’ hangouts often see jokes over how forwarded rumours become ‘news’ spreading like wildfire today. Social media keeps buzzing with newer trends, some trended by one group, others by another or some others. TV news channels showcase panelists who have pre-sealed their views and thereby of their respective followers. Different newspapers find themselves categorized by people based on their ideological leanings. This is a description of the scenario that has come to become part of our everyday information and news consumption process today.

One feels compelled to ask how these scenarios have impacted the common Indian as a consumer of the information communicated or generated by all these media and how does it bear upon the opinions that they would form based on it. Do you find anything amiss? Let’s assist you there.

The introduction of the means of easy, rapid and unlimited information access in our world today could be said to have opened a Pandora’s box of newer challenges. To put it concisely, these can be found in the nature of misinformation and disinformation. Disinformation is deliberate attempts to confuse or manipulate people through delivering dishonest information to them. Misinformation is misleading information created or disseminated without manipulative or malicious intent. Both are old stories fuelled by new technology. According to a 2019 survey, social media accounted for 41.68% of our exposure to ‘fake news’.

Both mis and disinformation are massive challenges today, staring at the news industry, social media platforms and governments. But most importantly, at you and me as the consumers of news. Who can assure that the images you saw on social media today weren’t morphed or that the ‘insightful’ essay you read on the economic situation today didn’t have forged or misleadingly projected statistics? We find that the lines between fact, advertising, entertainment, fabrication and fiction are increasingly blurred. And when disinformation and misinformation are published, the social news distribution system, dependent on peer-to-peer sharing, frequently sends the content viral, making it almost impossible to pull back, even if journalists and other fact checkers successfully debunk it. For instance, a video and the subsequent ‘news story’ of Taiwan having shot down a Chinese military aircraft flying over its airspace went viral on social media recently and was reported by tv news channels, only to be later refuted by Taiwan’s defence ministry which called it ‘fake news’. By that time, the ‘news’ had found itself on all family WhatsApp groups. This exposed the vulnerability of established mainstream media alongside ours, to disinformation.

We realize that this poses a direct challenge to our opinion-forming and discourse-setting processes that bear upon all aspects of our life and upon our society. It bears upon the rise, sustenance or destruction of establishments that govern our life, like the government. “On page one of any political science textbook it will say that democracy relies on people being informed about the issues so they can have a debate and make a decision,” said Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of Bristol, UK, who studies the persistence and spread of misinformation. “Having a large number of people in a society who are misinformed and have their own set of facts is absolutely devastating and extremely difficult to cope with.”

The trying situation doesn’t end its scope there. Today, with the expanse of social media has expanded the scale and ability to find others who share your opinions and many people choose to engage with self-reinforcing content only. This results in an exaggerated “echo chamber” effect, rigidizing opinions and views. It has become easier now, for propagandist influencers to do their job. Haven’t we seen this too clearly with scandals like the one with Cambridge Analytica spilling out to the world? The question is, are we allowing ourselves to be used as conduits? Are we allowing rigidity to our views and opinions that different kinds of vested interests would love us to have for control? Are we compelled to view our reality only in black and white? Does this suit our paths of development- individual and collective? Objectivity can mean many things. Like an all-round understanding of events. Like acknowledgment of the independence of our thoughts. Like opening doors to rationality. Like open-minded exchange of ideas and perspectives and willingness to bend one’s mind around facts that may not agree with one’s own viewpoint. Like encouragement of a discussion of events based on our own research and study. Did we come to the start of a solution to our problem situation already? We believe we did. With Golmej: a round table with no sides.

The team at Opash decided to work to counter this problem situation with the creation of a platform where common persons bring their perspectives to the discussion table for an open exchange of ideas on topics of relevance to our lives: current affairs or news. This, based on credible information and fact-research undertaken by participants. This platform is Golmej. If you are looking at dispassionate discussions and debate sans expert oratory, well-read participants eager to exchange views unbiasedly or even if you wish to view such discussions and put questions to the speakers, Golmej is your platform.

Golmej takes up one relevant important topic for discussion and goes live with it on Facebook each month.

  1. A presenter makes a presentation on the topic introducing it with all its relevant aspects and sets the stage for a discussion to start.
  2. Participants bring in their viewpoints and a discussion- debate is brought about. One may convince the other with one viewpoint or get convinced of the other viewpoint him/herself based on the other’s insights. Participants may come to agreement on certain points through the discussion. A multitude of possibilities present there.
  3. Moderators coordinate the entire session and monitor the time to ensure a smooth and productive discussion in the right direction.
  4. The secretary panel ensures adherence to all rules of Golmej.
  5. Golmej is free and open to view for all persons. Viewers also send in their comments and questions for any of the speakers.

On the lines of these ideals, the first Golmej was conducted on 15 August 2020, the perfect day to mark ‘independence of thought’ perhaps, on the topic “Are we in a position to hit China’s wallet”. The presenter, Anand Kshirsagar, contextualized the rise in the anti-China sentiment in India following the Galwan Valley conflict on 15 June 2020. Statistics showed a significant trade deficit between India and China that stood at $53.6 billion in 2018-19. While China remained the country from which India imported the most at 14% of total imports, it stood third among countries to which India exported the most. China as a major supplier in pharmaceutical industry, smart phone market, of reactors and electrical machinery was discussed and compared with India’s predominant supply of raw materials as part of its exports to China. All participants- Nikita, Shruti and Sameer agreed that India needs policy changes for a boost in manufacturing among other aims, to be able to stand up to China’s economic might and that at the given moment India did not have the capacity to hit the Chinese wallet. Divergent views on the political will and the merit and potential of the government work to build an economically strong India were expressed, also taking into consideration the political systems of both countries and the potential political and military costs of taking on China. India’s human resource and demographic advantage and the impact of certain legal provisions like labour laws also came to be discussed. Viewers’ questions pertained to multiple related facets of this topic, including consumerism, environmental impact, our standing with regard to intellectual property, etc. The panelists, with their in-depth study and multiple references, brought about an insightful discussion and deliberation of ideas that facilitated an all-round understanding of the topic.

Isaac Asimov said, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” It is now to make civilized and productive discussions on current affairs conducted to learn more and know more, the new norm with Golmej every month!

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