“Those who dare vs those who don’t. You won’t know till you do it.” These are the things that attracted me to the Internet and to Social Media in the early days. It was freedom. Anything was possible. Things have, obviously, changed. Some for the better and some not so much. I too have changed. Again, some for the better and some not so much.
I was made aware of the “incident” on Sunday, 12th July. I watched the video on Monday, 13th July and have since been reading the reactions and news pieces and have spent a considerably large amount of time thinking about it and writing about it and subsequently debating whether I should even bother publishing it.
At various points in my career, I have worked as a blogger and social media “influencer”, with Indian and International brands. So, you could say that I’m part of the “influencer community” peripherally. As far I know, there is no community as such. Just barely concealed jealousy and hatred. But I’m a cynical bastard, so take everything with a pinch of salt.
I have met Santoshi precisely once at a “Blogger Awards” event where influencers were flown down from various Indian cities to Delhi. It was evident to me, that I no longer belonged to the “influencer crowd” and that the Bombay Girls were a different league altogether. Think more “Bollywood” and “Celebrity” than my uncouth ass could ever be. So, add another pinch of salt to whatever I say. I’m 40 years old and I have a certain disdain for thin, tall, young girls who have taken Instagram with a storm. They are all beautiful and not afraid to flaunt it. Me on the other hand, I like my jeans and mens shirts and a half-shaved head and saying “fuck” even when I’m a keynote speaker. Anyway, let’s get on with the deets.
Santoshi is a popular Instagrammer from India. She is 26 years old. A student of Architecture. She lives in Bombay. Her previously popular blog The StyleEdge, has not seen an update since August 2019. Santoshi posted an IGTV video on her Instagram channel. Here’s a link to the IGTV video ( this was later deleted by Santoshi ) : https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7v1kcq
Almost ALL the news pieces and the outrage was centered around the statement that Santoshi had offered “therapy” or “mental health” or “counselling” sessions and she had the audacity to ask to be paid for these when she has no qualification as a mental health practitioner.
The IGTV video doesn’t mention the word “therapy” even once.
Neither does it mention “mental health” or “counselling”.
And yet, somehow, the video was misconstrued as offering mental health advice or therapy. A lot of therapists have publicly posted their own horrified reactions. They’re probably annoyed that a non-therapist can ask for money so that people can talk to her but the therapists themselves are not valued enough in India. It’s true. Mental Health is a joke in India, still, unfortunately. “You should see a therapist” is an insult. “I am seeing a therapist” is dangerous to say publicly. And as with most things in India, there’s a LOT of people posing as therapists and offering treatment to unsuspecting people.
I could interpret the IGTV video’s contents as being “problematic” in that they allude to providing therapy without actually using the words. In my opinion, I VERY MUCH doubt that such a sleight of hand was intended.
A LIST OF MENTAL HEALTH PRACTITIONERS IN INDIA
WOMEN. ASKING FOR MONEY. INDIA.
It can be hard to see that a woman is asking for money for spending time talking to her fans. Maybe we think that it’s “just talking”. How can anyone ask for money for that?
Culturally, across most families in India, we are brought up to look at money as “dirty”. Asking for money is a huge problem – we don’t ask for a raise, we underprice ourselves constantly and we feel beholden to someone who does pay us for our services / products.
Asking to be paid for my time has been one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had to overcome. People in India are utterly shameless about sending an email asking to pick your brain over a one hour phone call so that they can then use the information to launch their own business. This from entirely random strangers – I’m not talking about friends / or even acquaintances. Finally, I bit the bullet and decided to start sending them a link to my One-on-One Consulting page. “But Naina, it’s just a call.” For you maybe. I’m building my own stuff meanwhile and a call will take time away from that and I want to be paid for taking time away from my other revenue-making work.
The truth is that anyone can ask for money for anything.
It is also true that there is a market for everything. Just because I am not willing or able to pay for it, doesn’t mean there is no one able and / or willing to pay for it.
One of the comments about Santoshi’s video said, “She has thousands of young followers and this is misleading for them. Young, corruptible minds.” This was followed by another comment by someone who said, “She should try making an account on OnlyFans and ask for money there.”
So there are no young corruptible minds on OnlyFans? You think only +18 year old human beings sign up to watch OnlyFans content? How is having an OnlyFans account meant to be an insult? Women are claiming their sexuality online, more than ever before. If someone wants to show their body and ask for money for showing it, that’s their choice. If they understand things like consent and agency, even better. A lot of conservative men and women cannot handle this free expression!
WHAT DID I THINK ABOUT SANTOSHI’S OFFER
I was slightly alarmed by her offer because there will undoubtedly be folks who will pay the 1500 bucks and then get abusive or try to get inappropriate. How was she going to ensure her own safety?
At worst, it was not a very well-thought out idea. It is the job of best friends and family to be supportive, to help you shine your light brighter, to encourage you to live your best life. Especially when they are also at the receiving end of the money you make. Be very wary of taking advice from those who might only be trying to push you to make more and more money without considering the long-term consequence that YOU will have to live with, not them. I have no idea what Santoshi’s friends and family are like. Maybe they are not bothered by the monetary aspect of Santoshi’s work. Maybe they already come from a wealthy family. I don’t know.
WHAT DID I THINK OF THE RESPONSES TO SANTOSHI’S VIDEO
The response to her IGTV video is disgusting. But not surprising in the least.
Asking people for their hard-earned money, especially during the times of COVID19, should have even more than usual consideration and thought behind it, in my opinion. It’s just the more decent thing to do.
It is ok to ask for money. For anything. Asking does not mean getting though. It is ok to experiment too. The thing is, if you’ve always been respectful of others, then it’s easier to experiment and fail and come back gracefully for another experiment. The public is actually VERY forgiving. Especially in India. People understand.
COVID19 though, unfortunately, means that a lot of us have even more time at hand to comment, consume and complain. Even small mistakes tend to come under a magnifying glass and we are very happy to jump in and type out that nasty comment which we would otherwise never dream of saying to someone’s face.
MY EXPERIMENT WITH “BUY ME A BEER”
To share my own example, I recently added a product to my store. The product is called “Buy me a beer“. It is for Rs. 500. My premise was that for the last 16 years, I have been sharing everything for free on my blog and for a shorter time, on my YouTube channel and podcast. I have responded to thousands of DMs on Instagram. I have engaged with hundreds of people who come up to me in real life and I have shared my experience with them freely. And sometimes, people offer to send me stuff as a way of saying “thanks”. Or mention that “Wow, thanks! I wish I could return the favor.”
I’ve heard this SO many times and I usually don’t like accepting gifts because I cannot control what someone sends. What if I don’t like it? Will it be rude to just throw it in the trash? Is someone expecting a social media post about their gift? Yes. I’m an over-thinker.
But beer? I love beer.
It’s a cute way for someone to say “thanks”. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that I’m actually going to buy beer worth Rs. 500 and drink it each time someone buys me one. I have no plans of turning into an alcoholic. I thought that was obvious.
Someone made a fake checking account on my store and didn’t buy me a beer but did leave a note saying “seedhe seedhe bol na donation chahiye”. Boss, donation hee toh maang rahi hoon. Aap donation de rahe ho kya? Ab main us paise se beer khareedoon ya dildo, tumko kya?
THE ONLINE LANGUAGE
The way online marketing or even on-ground marketing works, the language we use makes a big difference in whether our message converts to an actual sale. A friend of mine recommended that I would probably get more donations if I said “buy me a coffee” instead of “buy me a beer” because most of the Indian audience that is online, stigmatizes alcohol.
I agree with their assessment. But, I love beer and I’m not going to change that message just because of that assessment. There’s a line one must draw, as a creator and an entrepreneur where we decide how much we’re going to change who we are and what we do just because the audience does or doesn’t like it.
If I had focused so much on what the audience wanted and what the market was willing to pay for, I would have done very different things with my life.
I make no claims that if you buy me a beer, you’ll feel better or I’ll feel better. It’s a simple transaction. If you have ever found something useful in what I say / do, buy me a beer. Or don’t.
That was probably another issue with Santoshi’s message. The words used were on the lines of “I’ve been told that I have great energy and you pay me and I’ll talk to you and you might find it inspirational”. It sounds a bit arrogant, which I highly doubt she is. But that’s the problem with online communication. It can sound like a million different things to a million different people.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN DONE DIFFERENTLY
You really need to have proof of concept first. For example, if Santoshi has spoken to her fans over a phone call previously, and the fan has reported back with positive feedback, then there could be something there. If she has spoken with several fans and ALL the feedback has been positive, then there’s definitely something there. If there’s something you’ve done that’s shown results and you have evidence to prove it, then there’s a possibility to package it in a certain way and monetize it. ( And fuck those who say “Not everything should be monetized.” )
After the above, talk about it with a few people who are not your close friends and family. Assuming you’ve already spoken with friends and family and none of them have told you to stop.
Listen to the hard feedback and think about it. It could be useless but it’s a great opportunity to think about it nonetheless.
Once you’ve done the above, don’t ask your audience about it. Launch the fucking thing. Keep it as simple as possible. Do A, you get B. That’s it. What problem are you solving, how is it going to help the customer, how they can get the solution.
Launching half-ready means that you’ll immediately see glaring holes in it and try to fix it before it fucks you up. And it might fuck you up.
If you’re worried about whether it will work on not, do a freebie first. “First five people get a one hour call for free!” See how that goes and then tweak. It’ll bolster your confidence AND give you valuable feedback for free. Use it.
Lots of micro launches and then the big launch just feels like you’re going with the flow.
Also, certified mental health practitioners shitting on Santoshi was great because that was making sure that those were the ones I would avoid if I ever had to recommend some at any point.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR SANTOSHI
She apologized publicly. ( Yeah yeah, I know she didn’t use the word “sorry”. OMG. The world is ending! )
Even though the entire world and their daddy rained down on Santoshi, I have absolutely zero doubts that she had people emailing her on that email address, expressing their interest in talking with her and paying her for it.
Talking to people for an hour – she said 4 people in a week and I almost passed out – it’s EXHAUSTING. I do these Instagram Profile Reviews for 30 minutes per session and only 5 people in a month and I’m fucking DRAINED. Think about your own mental peace first.
THE ISSUES I HAD WITH WHAT WAS SAID IN THE VIDEO
“I will not be talking about X because there’s enough information about it online already.”
The number of times I’ve used that excuse to delay doing photography workshops or even online brand building workshops, is astounding. Yes there is enough information about almost everything on the internet. To use an analogy, there’s enough people on the planet too. There’s definitely no need for more people. Yet, billions of us, wake up each day and strive to be better, do better and LIVE and LOVE. Your voice is yours. Maybe you teach in such a way and express ideas in such a way that people find more endearing and easy to follow and hence find more value in.
If you’ve done something that has shown results. That you have some form of evidence for. Then you can sell that skill. No matter how many people before you might have shared their own skills. There’s a market and audience for everything.
THE ISSUES I HAD WITH SOME OF THE RESPONSES TO THE VIDEO
There was a usual slew of objectification and attempts to shame her for her appearance. Fuck those people.
“If you’re in the public eye, be prepared to be taken down. It’s the price you pay for all that fame.”
I mean, I walk on the road also – it’s a pretty public place. If you’re going to attack me physically / verbally saying that it’s the price I’m paying for walking on the road – I guess that’s the excuse people have been using to actually harass women on the streets in India anyway. Unsurprising that that’s translated to online abuse.
The above is not true by the way – in case it wasn’t clear. No one deserves abuse.
The whole thing seems surreal to me. If it was the BJP IT Cell doing this, I could have totally got it. But educated people lost their shit quite publicly. As if it is their moral responsibility to bring down a stranger on the internet. “How can she get away with this when my life is so miserable? So I must maker her life miserable as well.”
And let’s not forget the “you can get arrested” threats. LOL. I’m not a lawyer but purely from the content of the video, there are no grounds for arrest, even from the AYUSH ministry guidelines.
Online influencers / popular people are the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to attacks like these. Have we ever seen or heard a single apology from legitimate criminals and charlatans who operate under the guise of gurus and holy men and women? They make false promises to legitimately poor people and cheat them and people DIE. But it is far easier for us privileged armchair activists to leave a comment on Santoshi’s Instagram I suppose. It’s far too dangerous to go after the real crooks who have the Government’s backing.
After all, in that scenario, the commentors could be arrested for defamation instead!