It is not as easy as it seems to be. It is a constant battle with your virtual selves and counterparts. The consistent need to be updated, to react and put our lives out on the internet is bound to take a toll on mental and emotional health. It is all fancy and on cloud nine. There are only positives and normative. The struggles are curtained beyond the lens of our smartphones. It is a polished, poised, and graceful version of what we see online, which we forget, is just a part of the concerned person’s life and not the whole truth. At times, it is just a personification of someone else’s life. All this ‘need’ to be virtually present drives us too, out of our raw and candid versions and we fall in the loop of social media pressure.
Scientists at Stanford University call it a duck syndrome. It is a true delight to the eyes, seeing a duck gracefully glide its way through the water. We admire the beauty of such a poised movement but we never mention or even hint the struggle the duck has to undergo in order to achieve such a beautiful locomotory pattern. The bird has to constantly paddle its feet, with great force, in order to ‘glide’ and the struggle is hidden, never talked about, never visible. Similarly, all that appears perfect online may not be the reality or could be such one part of the narrative. The struggles are often not shared on these platforms.
In view of the issues popping up on our timelines, every day, and the simultaneous need to react and put up stories to show that “we too are concerned and have opinions”, to be a part of the true millennial culture often has led to irrational and biased versions gaining attention. By the time the truth came out to public notice, it was too late. Massive users of these social media platforms are teenagers and college students and the urge to be a part of the ‘cool and concerned’ crowd has often encouraged in improper research and partial decision making in serious matters. In the context of the issue of “Bois Locker Room”, public shaming and virtual trials of the ‘juvenile accused’ took a toll on the lives and mental health of a lot of kids from similar age groups. They were left at the mercy of a virtual ‘jury’ to decide their fate and character. Not to forget a 17-year-old ended his life due to fear of public shaming. It also led/leads to a number of false accusations and it becomes difficult to separate the truth from the lies due to lack of proper evidence on either side. The problem is that we tend to blindly believe what our eyes see. We fall for generalized notions. We lack trust in authority and structures set up to actually announce verdict on such situations and label the person a victim or a criminal based on our prejudices and what these platforms make us see. The need to dwell deep into the matter is not felt anymore.
Following are some basic pressures I felt succumbed to as a heavy user of these social media apps (it is a subjective analysis):-
- Generalized notions — most of the times the information that tends to go viral speaks of general concepts, branding the entire community into one label which often leads to marginalization and triggers hate speech.
- Verifiability — it is very difficult to verify the data and information that spreads online due to which a lot of users fall prey to false information and create a commotion.
- Body shaming — where do I begin talking about this issue, every other ‘meme page’ objectifies people’s bodies and the so-called ‘roasting community of influencers’ find it very cool and entertaining to use abusive vulgar /abusive words and even badmouth certain communities on platforms where we find even 10-year-olds consuming the same content as adults. The lean figures and perfect summer bodies that one sees online creates unnecessary illusions and unwanted pressures to be a certain size to look beautiful. It lowers self-esteem.
- Hate speech & Cyber Bullying — just because certain extremists get free access to pages to voice their radical opinions, they seldom leave opportunities to spread hate or target certain groups because of differences in ideologies. Due to restrictions and fear of public assaults and mob crashes, people may refrain from physical fights but the reach and easy access to these platforms and also because of the growing popularity of these apps, they have turned to social media to bully and abuse those who do not share the same perspectives.
This list of cons is never-ending. By this article, I do not intend to imply that we should totally discard this online network. If there are cons, there are multiple pros to it as well. What I want as a consumer of this network is better regulation, sensitization, and education in the proper use of these structures. I want it to be a realistic and peaceful place for people to find solace in.