Facebook’s appeal as a platform for political activism in the Middle East is well known. Far fewer people access it in Sri Lanka, even amongst the handful in the country who are connected to the web and Internet. And yet, I received an invitation yesterday from Pissu Poona, an anonymous identity I befriended whose only reason on the social networking platform is to push articles and content of interest to fellow friends.
I had major concerns about befriending Pissu Poona. Though I can guess, I don’t know who Pissu Poona really is and given that my Facebook profile, which any friend has access to, is full of personal stuff, I didn’t at first want to befriend this identity, and only did so after being cajoled by a (real life / true / human) friend.
I wonder if this is the face of activism for a generation afraid, unwilling or just plain cycnical about other forms of activism, such as public demonstrations, satyagrahas and oral debate. The content Pissu Poona puts up is thought provoking, and the identity is being added virally. My friends were invited by me, their friends were invited by them and so on. The identity has 96 friends at the time of writing. Recent studies show that even for those with hundreds of Facebook ‘friends’, interaction is limited to only a few. It’s up for debate whether Pissu Poona will remain high on the radar of those who add the identity as a friend once the novely wears off. It’s interesting to see those on blogs, and a few who may have anonymous blogs, openly comment on some of the content on the profile that’s posted with the desire of stimulating debate.
Over a year ago, I started a Facebook group for Groundviews. Thought there are around 215 in the group, discussion on the FB have been extremely limited, as opposed to comments on the site. Pissu Poona on the contrary has got some discussions going, with those doing so unafraid of revealing their identities.
Before you reject my invite, NOTE that I’m NOT TRYING TO:
Pick you up
Be your friend
Steal your pictures to use on my illicit porn site
I AM however interested in “questioning your entire belief system.” Curious? Add Me
The self-definition of Pissu Poona is not yet matched by the content on the site, which largely points to content from mainstream print media – both local and international – as well as blogs, including Groundviews. It’s unclear whether those who are Pissu Poona’s friends would not have read this content earlier, and if they did, what value they see in having it plastered on Facebook.
The identity also asks questions. Today, a note posted went:
Could you ever bring yourself to kill someone?
I used to be pretty black and white about this before. Especially as I’m quite a pacifist by nature. Unless it was in self defence (and even then I couldn’t be sure, I’d be able to), I never, ever thought I could bring myself to kill someone. Ever! I’m not too sure anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a serial killer on the loose or anything, it’s just that I feel I’ve reached saturation point and if pushed beyond a certain limit, I just might be able to do something I’d never have considered before! Is it just me?
Such posts and the responses generated to date are far from well written, or searingly probative – but at least it’s young, fresh voices attempting to grapple with a systemic violence that’s befuddled older, better and wiser people for decades. Discussions embedded in Facebook may be the last bastion for dissent – given that they are out of sight and out of mind from the general public. At the same time, the same argument that suggests new media in general, and blogs in particular, are the new tools of democratic dissent applies to Facebook as well.
Pissu Poona is not the first in Sri Lanka to use Facebook in a manner that stimulates discussion on serious issues, but the voice is a force multiplier for content elsewhere on the web, bringing it to the attention of those who may only be focussed around news and information streams generated by and in Facebook.
Watch this space.