If you are an Indian with American friends, a storm is coming your way. The year 2024 will see elections in both countries. This is a one in twenty year phenomenon. The last time it happened, social media did not exist. Now it is a key vehicle of political messaging. Political campaigns in the two countries will ensure that you and your friends are in a foul mood till the day you cast your vote. We saw trailers of this phenomenon in 2018 and 2020.
I have a WhatsApp addiction. In 2020, I noticed that by the end of the day, I was in a foul mood. Discussions in three WhatsApp groups were responsible. These groups had a few people living in the US and many of them were very passionate about the elections. Most of them did not wish Mr. Donald Trump to become President again. A few of them, although less vocal, thought that Mr. Trump was not as bad as his opponents said. The two groups believed that the future of the US and the world depended on the elections. I am not saying who was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but that all of them were angry and they clashed regularly. Even if I managed to stay out of those discussions, reading the messages would leave me in a foul mood. Lack of willpower meant that on most days, I did not stay out of the discussions. In fact, on many occasions, I initiated it! In 2018, I saw a similar dynamic, except that the fight was about Mr. Modi. And now we have the two elections in the same year.
The dumbest student of persuasion knows that manipulating our emotions is the way to get us to take actions. Also, negative emotions are stronger motivators than positive ones. Political campaigns do their utmost to make us afraid of and disgusted with their opponents. They take away our uncertainty and replace it with toxic but delicious righteous indignation. Nuance becomes fascism, or demonic, or casteism or communalism. They make us believe that the future of our country and the world depends on us ‘doing the right thing.’ They make us hate friends and strangers for ‘not understanding basic truths.’ They start earlier and earlier and their messages are amplified by force multiplying influencers.
Even if you stay away from Twitter, WhatsApp and other addictions, it is likely that you have friends who don’t. In any case, there are newspapers and good old television. The mood of your friends is set to darken in the coming months and hence, so will yours.
I am not immune to this coming persuasion storm. I know that in the coming months I will be angry without knowing why. I will look at your social media posts and I will marvel at your cluelessness and your bias. I will sneer at your posts and feel bad later.
I write this article in the hope that it will inoculate me just a bit.
Thanks to Gaurav for triggering this post
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