Recently, Mira Rajput Kapoor uploaded a picture of herself with the caption “guess who clicked this?” Immediately, there were news articles dedicated to finding out if “Team Misha” or “Team Shahid” had clicked the picture. What a time to be alive — Instagram pages are delivering the news, while news channels are delivering meme-worthy material. There has been much discussion in the past few years about how TV news has bent over backwards to please the ruling establishment, and even newspapers have become toothless in their dissent. Journalists have been arrested for Facebook posts. But talking about the uncomfortable is a route many Instagram pages have taken to. While many may consider the fourth estate to have become a ‘joke’, the admin of Vice India Is Hip says that he’d rather call it dangerous. Vice India Is Hip was initially launched on Twitter in 2016, with a very Dadaist vibe, and did a great job of satirising Vice. However, over the years, the admin of the page (who chooses to stay anonymous), realised he is using it to express his own “personal political anguish through satire”.
Salva Mubarak, founder of the popular Instagram page, Rayon Mag, says, “Every day, I’m competing with ‘real’ news outlets for the most absurd headline. I think with the state of news media currently, satire is extremely necessary to provide a perspective on what’s going on in the world. Things are so wild these days that you can’t go with a fixed formula, there’s a new idiotic thing that just makes me worry that they’re coming for my job every day,” says Mubarak. Mubarak’s posts manage to get about 800-1,000 shares on an average, and 300-500 saves, while also reaching about 1,50,000 accounts every week. “There’s only so much one can shout (I still do) without anyone paying attention to all that’s wrong. With satire, it’s easier to get everyone’s attention. So, while there are plenty of absurd posts on Vice India Is Hip, much of what’s there is based on my personal politics — leftie, anti-fascist, and very disdainful of liberal ‘etiquettes’,” the admin of Vice India Is Hip, adds. On a weekly basis, Vice India Is Hip manages to reach 60-70,000 people, and while the posts are usually shared by around 500 to 600 people, the one on Arnab Goswami got over 8,000 shares.
Then, there’s The Kanda, which is India’s answer to The Onion. The admin, Mehershad, is a fan of the works of John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Hasan Minhaj, who do a great job in delivering relevant information in a palatable manner. While Mehershad does agree that social media is a great medium to consume news, they are also afraid of just how quickly fake news spreads. “Instagram can be a great way to supplement consuming news if navigated well, but on the contrary, studies have shown how quickly false information or “fake news” spreads through Instagram. And in that sense, I fear Instagram causes a divide — since the content you consume, and the feed you see might very possibly be outrageously different from mine. As with news channels, and social media, I think being aware of what you consume, where it is coming from, and what you sell your attention to — is key,” Mehershad says. The Kanda reaches around 20,000 people weekly and their posts get around 3,000 shares and 200 saves on an average.
The Dhakkan Chronicle is another news satire page on Instagram that has grown by leaps and bounds. According to their Instagram insights, the page reaches over four lakh accounts in a week, and their posts get an average of 1,200 shares. There are two admins for the page, both of them coming from advertising backgrounds. “We’re all influencers in our own right, and in the absence of a credible mainstream media, you and I have to become the media. Instagram wasn’t just meant to be a party all the time, it is a potent tool we can use to improve society too. The phrase “Armchair activism” may be used condescendingly, but is not such a bad thing if your heart is in the right place,” the admins believe.
An honorary mention must also go to The Wire, which was founded by senior journalists Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, and MK Venu in 2015. The Wire has received praise and hate in equal measure. On one hand, their reporters have won three Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards and the prestigious CPJ International Press Freedom Award. On the other hand, the website has been subjected to some highly publicised defamation suits, The news site is short of one million followers on Twitter, has over 7,87,000 followers on Instagram, and has over 29.8 lakh subscribers on YouTube. Then, there’s The Lallantop, a Hindi news and media website, with a young, fresh, and desi way of producing the news. It has over 3,53,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 3,09,600 followers on Twitter. What’s unique about this site is its WhatsApp share ability. “From artists like Kruttika Susarla to anti-caste meme pages like Revolutionary Memes for Bahujan Teens, to pages like Humans of Patriarchy and The Begumpura Collective, Instagram has become a valuable resource for understanding what is wrong, and why one must fight it. And because Instagram attracts more young users than old, I think it’s great that they get exposed to these pages and ideas,” says the admin for Vice India Is Hip, echoing the thoughts of thousands who have sought refuge on Twitter and Instagram from news channels that appear to be in a competition to see who can stoop the lowest.