THROUGH THE ‘FILTERS’ OF SOCIAL MEDIA: ANALYSING ITS AUTHENTICITY IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
Author: Prerna Deep, Law Clerk-cum-Research Assistant under Hon'ble Justice at the Supreme Court of India.
Co-author: Shruti Kirti, Assistant Editor at Publications Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
Social media with its infinite appearances, provides social support in faster dissemination of information. It was aimed at strengthening the bond of connecting families and friends. It was also bridging people from different horizons and creating a sense of belongingness in them. The ‘new self’ that became the talk of the social media town, was a content, flourishing, and almost envy-inducing self, living its best life. People began sharing their ideas, which was often rebuked as a deceptive outward guise. The filtered content being shared often created a distorted sense of reality, which sprung a new debate of falsehood and deceit.
While social media provides a site for people to fraternise and express their views, this article awakens the reader about the ascent of social media with its multiple-layered process and how it is deeply intertwined with legal consequences and censorship.
Blurring lines between Reel and Real
The obsessive dependence on social media has affected the psychological and physiological health of mankind. According to a research conducted by Statista, in 2018, 2.62 billion people were spending a portion of their day scrolling and using social media. It emerges as a new touchstone to focus on fulfilling an ‘accomplished’ life virtually. The portrait of this unblemished day can be a mere pretence to share with the world. The critical question is the price one pays for all this façade. While the direct consequences may not be something that one notes in the diary, the psychological aftermaths are often understated and misunderstood.
Levi-Beiz and Turel coined the term “Facebook-self” for the false personalities created by netizens to display themselves on social media. Their study further shows a direct correlation between an increase in the number of feigned online personalities, with a decline in self-esteem and authenticity in real life. These influencers often try to overcompensate for their imperfect life through an impeccable portrayal of self. Thus, these may be rightly called as ‘hyper-realities’ and therefore do not serve the purpose they claim to aim.
Social media often augments one’s vulnerabilities and insecurities, becoming an indicator of anxiety. A research conducted by Bevan, Gomez, Sparks  suggested ‘age groups 18-70 Facebook users have more stress and lesser quality of life’. The selfie realm has highlighted the concerns regarding representation of a ‘perfect’ face and body image, and a culture where everyone needs to follow certain principles in order to be trending.
For example, the Blue Whale challenge (2016) lured teenagers to pursue self-harm activities and kill themselves as the final task. Not only does such competitiveness tend to suppress one’s morale concerning how they should act and react, it also makes them believe that they are a part of a universal significance beyond their own limited lives. This façade promises a pretentious acceptance by the world wide web, but in reality, no one enters or leaves it.
Social Media as a Business Model
An underrated dimension of social media that remains unnoticed is that it works well as a successful business model. This is a 24*7 running business market, and therefore it mints financial profit continuously. While laws in other domains are easier to regulate in the country, the omnipresence of this media and the fluidity that accompanies it makes social media regulations complicated and controversial. The internet market of India is on a constant rise and is currently placed in the top three of the world with around 700 million internet users. As Claypoole suggests, “much of the business model development for social media sites is designed to coerce, cajole, trick, taunt, or tease us into revealing more information about our lives and our thoughts and opinions.”
There are legal breaches in terms of intellectual property laws, and subverting business and consumer laws. There have been attempts in the past by the government trying to censor the media or create guidelines to prevent these from happening, but the global nature of social media makes it challenging.
The Marxist tendency of this capitalist world where money making is the primary aim, remains at work while developing the social media websites. This fundamental rule appears to be applied by various platforms to cater their own purpose, which have their own target audience. Snapchat, for example, emerged as an idea when someone sent a personal photo to a wrong contact. It gave birth to self-destructing snaps and delete options for messages from one end in Telegram and WhatsApp, and recently introduced Instagram’s vanishing mode. Internet users are inclined to believe that numerous websites which also save their personal passwords, and information about all the transactions, make their jobs of writing 16-digit card details easy, but they fail to discern the fraud that can wipe them off their life’s savings.
“Commanding the trend represents a relatively novel and increasingly dangerous means of persuasion within social media.” The internet users get to choose what to post and show the world about themselves, they also choose what to see and what part of information to accept as the ultimate truth. Prier concludes that “the adaptation of social media as a tool of modern warfare should not be surprising.”
Social media can facilitate many cybercrimes, including cyber-bullying. We can easily access where or with whom someone stayed, what they ate and did, at that very instant. This oversharing of rapid information leads to the knowledge of someone at a vulnerable position (as a data directory for criminals to find the easiest of targets), or sometimes reveals their identity which was supposed to be kept confidential. In addition, the cyber-bullying aspect of social media gets far too little recognition than it deserves. Unfortunately, it has become a common occurrence to give women rape and murder threats on online platforms, even during arguments that are frivolous; however, if the same threats were given in the real world than virtual, it would be profoundly taken with greater sensitivity and responsibility. While the authorities might not take intimidating remarks on social media as par with the non-virtual ones, its effect on victims is extreme. It often leads to women feeling terrorised within their safe space, causing extreme distress, and in some rather unfortunate events, can also push towards suicidal attempts.
This gap is an oversight by the legal and policing system, and while there exists a cybercrime cell for the same, there is a need for better-implemented regulations, sensitisation, and censorship of the content that is often violent and inflammatory towards vulnerable and marginalised sections of the society.
Recent global controversies exemplify that the central objective of social media often gets deviated when a positive reaction to it also brings hatred and segregation amongst people. It simultaneously becomes a tool that unites as well as divides groups. The broadcasting of the George Floyd incident rightly angered the world against the greatly troubling hate crime- racism; then it regrettably divided Indians on whether they recognise casteism in their own country or not. Social media coerces one to choose one of the extreme stances, where normalcy of mistakes are made instantaneously unacceptable and become an object of mockery. Users discuss and share their opinions on their social media, but those are not without prejudices or stereotypes.
At last, social media is a garden full of roses that hides its thorns so ornately, that one tends to believe they do not exist at all. The unreliability of social networks with its silhouettes not only ascertains that one needs to be cautious in its usage, but also confirms that it subconsciously alters behaviour and life choices, and still thrives to find light at the end of the tunnel by making monetary benefits out of it.
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