Design: G Shreethigha
We are a generation that has grown up with and by the Internet and social media. Most of us made our first Facebook accounts back when we were twelve – a fact brought up every time your friends discover that one cringe-y photo deep in your Facebook archives that you hoped never saw the light of day. The more recent shift to platforms such as Instagram and Twitter as the social media app of choice has only deepened the impact of social media on our lives. We go to Twitter for news, Facebook feeds for catching up with family, and Instagram for validation.
Our lives in insti are also deeply intertwined with our social media presence. Being a closed campus, everyone knows (or knows of) everyone else – a process made infinitely easier by social media. An innocent Instagram follow opens up your life to people you have never met in real life, even if they are also an insti student. Furthermore, the culture of insti exposé, confessions, and meme pages have gained new ground and fresh following on Instagram.
But what are the implications of this? Is there a line between the public and the private? Should you be concerned about who sees what you put up on your social media? Who hides behind anonymity, and what are the ethics behind it?
This is an oft-evoked fear. The fear of Big Brother Facebook watching you, storing and using your data. On an individual level, however, the fear of who is watching seldom hits us, if at all. The need to post every friends’ outing, every good-hair-day selfie, every achievement – whether it is a Stanford admit or a i-got-out-of-bed-today milestone – has to be documented on social media. Did you really bake that banana bread in quarantine if you did not put up an Insta story about it?
Your everyday slice of life, however, is being carefully documented. As this New Yorker article argues , the identity we create on social media can come back to haunt us. That once harmless joke you shared on your wall six years ago, is now problematic in ways you did not realise then. We are not the only ones posting about ourselves too – friends and family chronicle our lives, usually without consent.
One can never break away from their past, and even moving cities, schools, or colleges, does not mean a clean start. What happens on the internet, stays forever on the internet.
In a highly controversial and interesting 2014 case, the EU adopted the “right to be forgotten”. Stemming from a case made against Google , the right to be forgotten is the right to have negative private information about a person to be removed from Internet searches and other directories under some circumstances. The controversy arose with the possible potential of misusing this right to rewrite history, censor, and overall curb the right to freedom of expression.
In insti, the line between one’s private and social media lives often gets blurred. While some use their social media platform to express themselves and their views, they are often susceptible to overt criticism, hate comments, and moral policing from people they have unwittingly given access to their profiles. This approaches an especially grey area when such behaviour can be seen by individuals and pages who hide behind anonymity.
Anonymity and Accountability
Social media awards us the freedom to present a carefully curated version of our lives to the world. One can control the image and the personal brand one builds, hiding away the things one does not want to show. This phenomenon takes a rather more suspicious turn when individuals take the refuge of anonymity.
Anonymity has a dangerous appeal – one can speak their mind and put out their thoughts and opinions as facts, even when they are not necessarily so. Anonymity means that one is not accountable for what they say, no one can attack you as an individual.
One can maintain the facade of being ‘woke’ in their personal lives, and at the same time, spread hate on their anonymous social media page.
In the insti lifecycle, this is a periodic phenomenon. Come election time, and one can find a plethora of meme pages pushing different candidates agendas, and sometimes even carrying out blatant hate campaigns against certain candidates. The exposé-esque, controversial hot takes garner a huge following – in some cases, it becomes the only way people get their information from. Who checks this information? Can the page be made accountable for spreading false news? Can they be made to take responsibility for harassment and inappropriate behaviour? Should they be held up to the same standards that they hold individuals in their personal lives?
Social Media Ethics
These are difficult questions to answer, and the answers will differ with one’s personal philosophies and biases. The ethics of social media use is a topic that has widely been debated upon. In fact, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a comprehensive entry about social networking and ethics. The coming together of the private and public sphere is enabled by social media.
Rather than being the connection panacea it was heralded as, social media seems to have driven people even more apart. Trapped in online echo chambers, people seek out content and groups that only affirms their own biases.
Furthermore, the algorithm supplements this in a positive feedback loop which can further drive people down the rabbit hole – you follow one meninist page and floodgates of misogyny are opened and actively enabled. At this juncture, it is important to shine an introspective, critical lens to how we consume and participate in social media. We need to be more mindful about which individuals and pages we decide to support and follow. In this post-truth, fake news age, where everyone has an opinion and a loud voice to broadcast it in, be sure to seek out the ones that really matter.