Snapchat in hate campaign after supposed anti-India comments by Evan Spiegel; this shows India is not only poor but uneducated, too

Sainul Abudheen

CEO Evan Spiegel allegedly said in 2015 that Snapchat is “only for rich people” and that he doesn’t “want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain”

Last week, the Variety magazine published a report which claimed that Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had said the ephemeral app is only for rich people and that he did not want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain. The comments, which Snapchat termed ridiculous, were extracted from an unedited lawsuit filed by Anthony Pompliano, a former employee who worked as the firm’s growth lead for a short period in 2015.

As per this petition, Spiegel made the remarks during a September 2015 meeting with Pompilano when the startup was planning to go global. In that meeting, Pampliano expressed concerns about the app not taking off in foreign markets. As he was suggesting ways to address this issue, Spiegel allegedly cut him off saying Snapchat was for rich people and that he didn’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain.

While the veracity of the comments is still disputed, the remarks have kicked up a storm in India. Snapchat was subjected to a hate campaign. Angry Indians downgraded the app on iOS app store, and as a result, its ratings took a beating. Miffed users also uninstalled the app and trended #BoycottSnapchat on Twitter. From Bollywood stars to cricket players, renowned personalities and celebrities flayed the company and Spiegel, and uninstalled the app.  And the brand took a severe beating in India.

We have become jingoistic all of a sudden

The hate campaign against Snapchat is signalling a trend that India is fast becoming intolerant. It is not the first hate campaign against a popular brand, nor is it going to be the last.

Intolerance is actually a new-found problem in India. We Indians have become jingoistic and even xenophobic to a great extent, all of a sudden — thanks mainly to a central government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that often invokes nationality to target its opponents. And we no longer tolerate criticism of the government, not to mention the country.

If you find fault with the ruling dispensation which increasingly equates itself to the nation, and air your dissent on any public platform (online/offline), be prepared to face the consequences. You are now an anti-national, will be named and shamed on social media and trolled on Twitter by the hundreds who are part of a right-wing internet brigade employed by the party in power.

You are now a “libtard” and should go to Pakistan, our arch rival. You also run the risk of being slapped with sedition charges by our nationalist government and you will be put behind bars indefinitely without bail. In the worst case scenario, you can be hacked/stabbed/lynched to death.

Welcome to the new India, the shining star in the world.

Playing the nationalism card

Nationalism has been a trump card widely used by the current ruling dispensation to quell the threats coming from the so-called “sickularists (sick + secularists)” who have been critical of the government’s anti-people policies.

Honestly, I am a nationalist myself. However, my definition of nationalism is totally different from what is practiced widely by a certain section of people in India.

Unlike them, I cannot support a government that whips up nationalism to divide and polarise people on the lines of religion, caste and creed — just to garner some votes. I will definitely voice my dissent when the government deviates from its objectives as far as the freedom of expression exists. I cannot support an army that uses special powers to shoot people to death, and rape women living in villages on the boarder. And I cannot stand for the people, who hurl racial slurs on black people and beat them black and blue, even if they are my relatives.

Nationalism is often invoked by governments when they fail in their promises to people. The card is used as a mask by governments across the world to hide behind its failure, and India is no different.

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel

Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel

Poverty and lack of education dog the country 

Frankly, I don’t find Spiegel’s comments insulting. If at all he said what he said, it is a naked truth. India is poor, and the poverty eradication is still decades away.

Millions of my fellow countrymen are still living in abject poverty. As per a World Bank report of last year, nearly 62 per cent of Indians are poor.

The intensity of the poverty is so much so that people can still be seen searching for food in piles of garbages almost everywhere in India, and devour on the left-overs thrown on the road-side by the “have lots”. Poverty is more severe in the hinterlands. There people don’t even have roads, schools, and electricity. How can we forget the shocking visuals of Dana Majhi, a Dalit (untouchable) from Orissa, who carried his dead wife on the shoulder from the hospital for more than 10 Kms to his home for cremation.

Farmer suicide is a common issue in India. Rising prices of essentials are burning a hole in the pocket of the poor. Demonetisation has badly hit them, as most of Indians are still unbanked. Tarred roads are still a distant dream for many. Millions still live on slums.

Also read: Is “Make in India, funded by China” the new norm?

But the government is in constant denial

Despite all the tall claims by the government, India still remains a poor country. Take any social indices, the country is still far behind even some African countries. Misgovernance, corruption, and mismanagement are rampant across the country. Political parties are in league with big corporates that influence policies, which later turn out to be anti-people.

Snapdeal gets hit in a mistaken identity

The Snapchat episode also throws lights into another contentious issue – lack of education. And we have also proved to the world that we can be poor and stupid at the same time.

Since Snapchat doesn’t have a huge user base in India, the campaign against the app did not make much impact on the bottom-line of the startup. But curiously enough, the campaign hit another brand, which is already struggling to survive in India.

Also read: 900 million strong, Indian millennials live in an age of social commerce

As per some reports, some netizens mistakenly downgraded and uninstalled the mobile app of e-commerce player Snapdeal for its similarity to the name “Snapchat”. This is the second time Snapdeal is being subjected to a hate campaign in less than a year. Last year, the company faced the fury after its brand ambassador, Bollywood star Aamir Khan, made a comment on the rising intolerance level in India. The app was uninstalled by thousands of users. The campaign was led by a Minister, who asked his party men to teach Snapdeal a lesson. Eventually, the company ended its contract with Khan.

There are many more instances for the rising intolerance in the country, and this is going to tarnish the image of the country. 

I think we need to take criticism in a positive way and try to improve our image outside of India. Instead of invoking nationalism and patriotism, the government and the citizens should work towards eradicating poverty and imparting education. Or, the brand India that is projected to the outside world will take a beating.


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