“I am a millennial. We invented social media. So I should be really good at this” – when Emma from the popular web series starts narrating her tale, it sets my mind on fire. Infact millennials are the  early adopters of social media and have embraced these platforms widely as a main form of communication. It was during my bachelors that Whatsapp started becoming prominent among our friend circles. By the time I reached my masters, Instagram was the need of the hour. As life progressed,my M.Phil gave me ‘Visiobibliophobia’.It includes the fear of Facebook and a wide variety of social media such as instagram, facebook, twitter, or any other social media site. ‘Death by social media’ is real and hence it’s important to address the social media lynch mob tactically.

One of the topics that I was mostly reading off late was about ‘Post truth analysis’. It is a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts. The digital culture makes it possible to post our views online and to label them as facts through Internet, which can be legitimized through means of echo chambers and other users who endorse one another. Content can be assessed on the basis of how many views a post has and generates an environment that appeals instead of researched facts to sentiments, viewers and headline appeals.The post gets shared in different internet circles and the reactions depend on how the social media trend proceeds. Being irrational and having faith in every tripe has become the urgent necessity.When cognitive resonance fills our content, acceptance level increases. The recent death of a wild elephant in the district of Palakkad in Kerala, the hue and cry it generated in the social media circle is the latest example. The major danger posed by social media thence, is the amplification of constructed matter.

Now, the online mobs are proliferating day by day. Lynching in social media platforms has become common in India. Perhaps unsurprisingly, women, muslims, migrants and other marginalised communities are their favorite targets.The paid political pawns, cyber guardians, cyber bullies are all the poisons that blind you and open your eyes. The society itself lacks objective reality. When it itself turns nonsensical, the social norms, political system, nation states, nationality becomes meaningless. Once it stands, the associated norms also becomes reality. Some of these norms are acceptable to us while others do not and the struggle for recognition crops up. Societal norms themselves are lacking objective reality. There are no rules but driven by basic instincts. The numerical strength and its predominant anonymity in social media can lead to instinctual behaviours. This crowd behaviour is never ‘disciplined’ or ‘cultured’ and breeds irresponsible actions. As Richard Telofski quoted in his book “Insidious Competition”, the anonymity, power,contagion,instinct and disdain helps in the blossoming of these basic instincts in social media.

Trapped in echo chambers

Nobody pays heed to truths any longer – covering ourselves in a blanket of like minded acquaintances, social media feeds and web pages.The era has seen jargons like ‘epistemic bubbles’ ‘echo chambers’ ‘algorithms’ , that are taking our private spaces. The chamber allows us only what we really want to hear and shut the external voices. The participants of an echo chamber are not irrational but misinformed about where to place their trust. The chamber starts grooming us right from our childhood. Once we turn victims to our own filter bubbles, the chamber pushes us into a never ending loop, the power gained starts eating us up and violence takes a new role. Most victims of these violence are women. The polarized cyberworld often put women retreat back,where they can no longer handle the perpretrators. Fear and societal pressures of social media prohibit them from speaking the truth thereby internalizing the echo chambers. With victims discouraged from getting help, tragic consequences can ensue. How else would cyberspace be favorable to women when the harassers are male with loud microphone, and their misogyny is widely celebrated. Why should one spend time in a space where even harmless interactions are grotescely harassed and patronised?

Sobering-Up

As “Yoroku”, a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun states, social media should be used not as fear-feeding echo chamber, but to connect to the truth. For that one has to access variety of information about the same source and have a basic fact check before posting. The escape from this maze is not so easy as we are taking it back home. The answer is within us. Revamp from the reader’s side and avoidance of social media as a source of information shall be a viable solution.

Bulbul Prakash, Research Scholar, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi


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