As a kid, I remember taking part in debates and discussing the topic of social media being a boon or a bane a lot many times. It’s been more than a decade, and we are still contemplating on it, although the spectrum of arguments has undoubtedly become wider over the years with the increased number of users. Having used once just for the sake of some entertainment while bringing our loved ones closer, social media has now become a part of our life, to such an extent that saying ‘our lives revolve around social media’ doesn’t sound wrong. From first thing in the morning to last thing at night, most of us are exposed to that blue screen and scrolling our feed all through the day. Imagining a world without Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp, and many such platforms seems impossible as our personal and professional lives are connected to them. From our parents shouting “Din bhar Facebook me lage rahoge kya?” to asking us on a video call “Beta, ye Instagram par story kaise daalte hain?” we have all seen it evolve and impact us in one or the other way. Acknowledging the power of these platforms, we are bringing back the old school discussion and trying to understand it objectively.
Connecting or Pretending?
Social media has always been considered as a platform that makes the world a smaller place by connecting people to their friends, family, relatives or sometimes even strangers. It’s a wonderful medium to keep in touch with people and get a daily dose of their updates. Sometimes individuals can meet the love of their life by sending a friend request or dropping a sweet message in their inbox and in no time we see them creating their own romantic modern age fairytale. Not just that, but social media helps us reach out to people easily and ask or offer help in tough times. For instance, Bollywood actor Sonu Sood emerged as a messiah when he helped migrant workers to find a safe passage home, even when the government looked helpless. Or when Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds came forward to help a girl find her stolen teddy, which contained a voice recording of her late mother and offered $5000 as a reward for its safe return, we have many such real-life superheroes using social media platforms for a good cause and standing by others. What better time to witness it than pandemic! People from around the globe have come together to stand with solidarity, fight the pandemic and help each other in whatever ways they can. Together they have raised funds for the needy, connected the patients to plasma donors, and tried to help frontline workers by donating protective equipment.
But is social media only making the world a better place? More than connecting, social media is allowing us to present ourselves the way we want to be seen in the outside world. It’s connecting us in a way that we are isolating from the real world and maybe from our real self too. Haven’t we all seen a group of friends or families meet each other and still stick to their phones when they can have a heart-to-heart conversation with each other? Don’t we all regularly see people portray their best on social media and hide their flaws? Haven’t we dealt with problems and challenges alone and have no one to talk to instead of that long list of friends on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts? Somewhere busy building our “social media family”, are we losing people who care about us with their whole heart?
Followers or Stalkers?
There are millions of people out there who want to inspire the world with their work and are constantly looking to carve a niche in the society with the help of social media. This platform has the power to make your work do the talking all across the world in no time.
However, sometimes people are not too confident to present themselves publically on such platforms as it has its drawbacks. Being a woman brought up in a society where we are always asked to be careful and aware of our actions and words and clothes because of some unwanted people, thousands of thoughts cross my mind before making my account public and putting myself out there. Even though there might be tons of people who would follow me for my work, but the fear of being stalked will always bother me. And we have come across many such victims in our country, irrespective of the gender. On one hand, followers get into others DMs to appreciate their work and their persona; stalkers leave one such disturbing as well as terrifying message that will hardly ever get out of your head.
Freedom of Speech or Lack of Censorship?
The reason behind trending hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter and #justiceforsushant is the power of social media and the voice of users all across the globe. When people find it challenging to stand up against injustice, social media gives them the power to do so. We are all aware of such happenings because we have many such platforms that let people share their words with millions of others that can be further reposted by them, and that’s how it gets circulated. If we compare things to the pre-social media era, many parts of the world were not ready to accept and understand lots of things in this society including mental health issues, homosexuality, women empowerment, and menstrual hygiene. Social media has helped people spread awareness and acknowledge many such strands around them.
Sometimes people use this freedom of speech in an unfair manner and try to mould the information according to their convenience because content on social media gets circulated rapidly. As a result, it becomes a war zone for all users. People are always fighting for black or white, there’s no grey for them, and no one wants to believe such an idea. Platforms that allow us to share our opinions have now become a place to pass judgments and that too without having complete information on the particular topic. If we recall the last few months, ever since the tragic demise of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, social media has become one toxic place and is creating a lot of stress everywhere. No doubt that it is these platforms and its users’ support that led to the CBI enquiry on Sushant’s case, however, on the other hand, the users have created a mess and are spreading hatred. Some people are vilifying actor Rhea Chakraborty and her family because she is one of the main suspects in the case, while some are trolling star kids (irrespective of their work) and filmmaker like Karan Johar for being a flag bearer of nepotism. Many have already declared it a suicide case, many are calling it a murder, while some are busy using the actor's demise and his families’ pain for their own publicity and TRP.
Amid all this chaos and blame games what people have forgotten is that a father is sitting at home waiting to know the reason behind his young son’s demise. Through social media, people are targeting each other even though the case is still under investigation.
Creating Opportunity or Anxiety?
If Instagram influencers like Diipa Khosla and Kusha Kapila, Youtubers like Ajey Nagar (aka Carry Minati) and Sejal Kumar and comedians like Vir Das and Sumukhi Suresh have made a mark in their respective fields, a lot of credit is to be given to social media for being the window between many such talents and the audience. Case in point, the recent viral video of an artist named Yashraj Mukhate, who added rhythm and harmony to a dialogue clip of a well-known character Kokila Ben from a popular Indian daily soap; within a few hours Yashraj became the internet sensation, and that catchy tune of ‘Rasode Me Kaun Tha’ cannot be taken out of our heads, no matter how much we try. He has been lauded by millions of people including actor Rajkummar Rao and Taapsee Pannu and even the makers of the daily soap.
Now the problem arises when people start comparing their own capabilities to others. Self-doubts start surrounding our minds when we see someone else receive so much love and appreciation all over the internet. As humans, we crave such attention and validation, and when we don’t receive it, we overthink and end up being anxious.
How many times has it happened that we looked at an influencer’s or actor’s picture on social media and started wondering why we don’t have such skin, hair or body? How many times has it happened that we saw people displaying their art and creative skills on social media and started feeling bad about not having any of that ability?
In such situations, instead of working on our own skills and appreciating what we have, we keep self-doubting and thinking if we can ever have those things that others do. Social media has made us too competitive, and we are always trying to be extraordinary. Even when we have a positive outlook, people may criticize those efforts, and that bothers us. When we are surrounded by all these negative thoughts, we may end up getting anxious, stressed and sometimes even depressed.
The debate of social media seems never-ending. The advancements of such platforms come with their own set of limitations. To make it a good place for us to survive, we need to learn and understand all its facets and use it for the benefit of ourselves as well as the entire society. – Srivalli