It is high time that social media influencers know how to reactonce they are subject to harsh criticism like it happened recently with social media influencer couple Gaurav Taneja and Ritu Rathee
Imagine, you put up a video on social media where you are seen to be doing something someone else disapproves of. It could be anything. If you are a vlogger or a social media influencer, there is no shortage of video content for people to criticise. You could be filming precious moments with your family that you want to share with the world and remember forever, for eg:- your daughter’s kanchedan (ear piercing), or be seen discussing a controversial topic such as the alarming rise in false rape accusations or even just showing appreciation for a religious practice or custom.
To anyone who has used the internet, it is evident that the internet is an unruly horse and a marketplace of ideas and free debate. One can be sure to find both followers and critics, who appreciate and criticise with equal vigor. Social media influencers are by no means, above such disagreement and are often even the centre of harsh criticism and controversy.
Toying With Legal Remedy
So, as a social media influencer, it would be unsurprising to receive criticism for controversial content. If someone disagrees with your opinions, you simply brush it off saying, “there will always be people who disagree with me”.
But what happens if one such critic contacts your employers or business partners and insinuates that given your opinions on certain issues, it is immoral to employ you or work with you? What if this critic starts demanding answers from your employers, with regard to the morality of employing people who share your opinion, as he/she disagrees with you and deems your opinions to be immoral. Now, what if and when your employers/business partners refuse to respond. This critic publishes an article in a newspaper, proclaiming you to be a “sordid” social media influencer and arguing that it is immoral for your business partners/employers to work with/employ you? What do you do? What legal remedy do you have, at your disposal, which can undo the damage?
This, in a nutshell, is the position of @flyingbeast320 or social media influencer couple – Gaurav Taneja and Ritu Rathee, who have recently been subject to harsh criticism, by an article published in Live Mint titled “Shouldn’t brands stop supporting sordid influencers?”
Videos Dubbed As Evidence of Child Abuse
The article points to three videos uploaded by @flyingbeast320, describing them as follows:-
In one video, Gaurav seems to be indirectly advising men to steer clear of live-in relationships stating that he hears of a lot of cases where the man is falsely accused of rape when the relationship breaks down.
In another, he is filming Ritu piercing their elder daughter’s ears and when the daughter asks him not to “vlog” it, he says, “why not!” The 10-minute video then goes on to show the daughter howling and writhing in pain while the camera zooms in on her.
In the third one, someone is filming the entire family looking for a phone that the elder daughter seems to have dropped off from the balcony of their flat in a high-rise apartment complex. The thumbnail shows Ritu charging at her daughter who looks mortified. In the video, you see Ritu berating her crying child, and threatening to slap her.
The author proceeds to reproduce the medical opinion of a child psychologist from Mangaluru, who has presumably neither personally met nor interacted with Gaurav Taneja, Ritu Rathee or their daughter. The psychologist deems the videos as clear evidence of child abuse. The article reads as follows:-
The last two videos exhibit “clear cases of child abuse,” says Joy Santhosh, a child psychologist from Mangaluru. “The parents may think this is entertaining or educative even, and say that the child is fine later in the video. But the child will be prone to mental health issues when they grow older and see themselves and the comments pointing out the abuse,” she says. “The child might develop anxiety, isolation, trouble with relationships and a sense of hatred towards their family,” she adds.
Creators get carried away with their popularity but adults need to be educated on what kind of content they should and should not feature their children in, especially children under 13, says Joy.
Basis on this medical opinion and other cherry picked content from Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and Youtube, the author argues for brands such as Airtel and Tata Cliq to stop collaborating with @flyingbeast320, insinuating that his opinions are divisive and his videos promote physical harm. The author of the article also reached out to 8 brands that have collaborated with @flyingbeast320 and published their responses in the article.
I reached out to eight brands that have collaborated with Flying Beast or its associated channels in the recent past. Among them, three brands responded with some or the other version of “Thank you for bringing this to our notice.
Some, like Airtel and Tata Cliq, engaged but never responded to my query. Realme and Rage Coffee are among the ones I never heard back from. And then there was Mamaearth.
Here’s how the three brands that did answer the queries responded to the issue of creator selection for influencer marketing campaigns and their view on what they post in their own time” The author reproduces screenshots of the response she received upon reaching out to Urban Company.
Urban Company on collaborating with flying Beast for a promotional campaign last month:
While we endorse free speech and individuality on social media, we do have our brand guidelines in place when choosing which content creators to collaborate with. Typically, we consider the following criteria when selecting a creator-target audience, engagement rate and content quality. But, it has always been our endeavour to not work with creators whose content promotes physicall harm and /or divisiveness.
The author proceeds to reproduce the medical opinion of a child psychologist from Mangaluru, who has presumably neither personally met nor interacted with Gaurav Taneja, Ritu Rathee or their daughter. The psychologist deems the videos as clear evidence of child abuse
It’s interesting that Urban Company specifically mentions “physical harm” and “divisiveness” but never clarifies if it is indicating that the creator in question promotes those aspects or not,” she says I do not wish to traverse the nuances of the kind of litigation the author, the child psychologist or Live Mint have potentially exposed themselves to, for the article might qualify as defamatory content under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. I only wish to speak of the moral implications of this witch-hunt.
It is all well and good to hold public personalities accountable for their actions. Bollywood celebrities, on social media, are regularly admonished for making insensitive statements against religious communities, castes, etc. There is no reason for social media influencers to bypass the same level of scrutiny, provided there is good reason for the same. One may criticise Gaurav Taneja ‘s tweets or even disagree with his opinions but should such criticism extend to calling him an unfit or an abusive father? The article in question has dragged Mr. Taneja’s wife and child into the controversy and made all kinds of disparaging statements against their parenting skills. If the author believed that the videos uploaded by Gaurav Taneja were inappropriate, she could have said so. She would also have been well within her moral and legal right to argue that brands should not collaborate with such influencers, as their videos are inappropriate or that she would refuse to buy any products endorsed by @flyingbeast320. However, the article has gone above and beyond merely public criticism of Gaurav Taneja’s content. It has sought to invade every aspect of their private lives, leaving no stone unturned. What is worse is the author’s pretence of victimhood after having led the charge on this witch-hunt. She writes, At this point, most top creators are beyond scrutiny. Their fans far outweigh their critics–Abhishek received hundreds of notifications from trolls after his critical tweets on the above-mentioned creators. I’m already preparing myself mentally for some form of cyberbullying and harassment once this piece is out.
And so I ask, once again – should these be the consequences of someone disagreeing with you on the internet?