A few days ago, I came across an Instagram post that narrated the personal account of a woman whose livelihood had been devastated by current economic conditions. The post alleged that a rise in Goods and Services Tax had resulted in the lady’s foreign clients ceasing their relationship with her small enterprise.
Prima facie, this post made little sense, as the export of goods and services is Zero rated, and would not impact pricing offered to overseas clients. Even if suppliers of her raw materials charged GST, this would be recoverable as an input tax credit, and would have a net-zero impact on the financials of the small business. I brought this to the notice of the person who posted it – let’s call her SCL.
To SCL’s credit, she didn’t block me, but launched into an explanation of how the subject of this post is not an exporter but is a contract manufacturer of products that are eventually exported. This is a direct contradiction of the post that suggests that this lady does direct business with foreign “suppliers”. SCL further explained that an increase in living costs necessitated an increase in wages, reducing this producer’s competitiveness, thus impacting their business.
From SCL’s explanation, it’s clear that the subject’s woes are the result of multiple intersecting causes such as: a predatory market for handmade goods that exploits craftspeople – whether carpetmakers in Kashmir, silk weavers in Kancheepuram, or diamond polishers in Surat; a vulnerable supply chain that results in widely fluctuating input costs – especially those with an agricultural element such as wool, silk, timber, or coir; poor financial inclusion that drives artisans and small business to predatory money lenders in the informal credit sector; and a rapidly rising cost of living in urban centres driven by income inequality and gentrification.
Thus, while SCL’s post highlights a genuine tale of misfortune, it’s factually incorrect in attributing it to the Goods and Services Tax.
Now this post was not a stand-alone observation a-la “Humans of New York”. It was positioned in the light of a highly publicized political protest against an immigration law passed by the Government of India. With the Indian political sphere rapidly flooding with exaggerations and falsehoods, factfulness and coherence are critical to citizen reportage. In a time of increased vitriol, across the globe, the fences are heavy with sitters, and reasoned, factual accounts are critical to attracting thoughtful, high-commitment allies.
In her last message, SCL claims that her intention in making this post is to encourage “people to come to these protests and see what demands are being made, instead of relying [on the] mainstream media that paints a wrong picture”. While I do agree that evening Scream TV and unethical spin – particularly by the vernacular papers – are serious issues, SCL’s own post that centres on a factual inaccuracy is as damaging. As an empath and an artist, she’s certainly putting her heart and skills to support her cause, but the remedy of a murky media environment is NOT to muddy it further with factual inaccuracies.
Citizen reporters like SCL do indeed perform a powerful public service when the thoughtful are tuning out from the mainstream media. However they do need to ensure that facts, coherence, and context – the holy trinity of reporting – shine bright in their posts.
Original images excerpted from https://www.instagram.com/sadak.chhaap.ladki/ under “fair use” principles.