Are Social Media Sites Class Driven

Social media platforms are considered progressive and egalitarian where anyone can create a profile, connect with anyone, follow anybody and be followed. At least as far as the technology is concerned they are progressive and egalitarian slapping no restrictions on anybody to do anything that’s in keeping with the platform’s intent and within the bounds of acceptable behavior (the trolls may stretch the definition of acceptable behavior but that’s another discussion).

There are no restrictions on who you can follow, whether you know that person or whether even that person approves of you following him (mostly we don’t care who is following us unless the person the indulges into inappropriate behavior).

Who you can have a reciprocal relationship with is, of course, dependent on the other person’s choice whether he wants to connect with you – but that hardly undermines the purported egalitarian nature of social media. It promotes it.

What undermines it, however, is the homogeneous sphere within which exchanges take place. A celebrity (which can be anyone with a considerable follower base and mostly real world celebrities have them) only talks to another celebrity. There are very few instances of a celebrity engaging in an interaction with a non-celebrity. There may be exceptions to it. But they are that: exceptions.

However, what’s more unfortunate is this practice of interacting with only your own ‘types’ is not restricted to celebrities – this is the general norm.

Take FB. You may have a network of 1000 people but you will interact with only a few of them, probably only with people you mix with socially – family members, close friends etc. – restricting your interactions to the social pocket you come from (which in India may not be independent of caste, religious and recently, political considerations).

Twitter, being an interest based networking site, unlike FB, and attracting, as a result, people with a penchant for ‘political correctness’ may be more secular and cross sectional in terms of the interactions that take place on it, but it’s cross-sectional nature is horizontal not vertical. A celebrity (famous journalists, film stars, politicians, public intellectuals etc.) may have an conersation  with a celebrity from another walk of life, but not a pedestrian like you and me.

Non-celeb Twitter guys with a small follower base below, say, five hundred spend most of their time on the site retweeting the tweets of celebrities and only on very a few occasions do these celebs return the favor by retweeting the tweets of their lesser known followers. Undeterred, the anonymous brigade goes on retweeting celebrity tweets.

Once a friend had told me how a reply he had sent to a famous writer’s tweet on a book the latter had recently published complimenting the writer on it, had gone unreplied by the writer, while the same writer, on the same day and probably around the same time, had thanked a tweet by a famous filmstar praising his book.

I myself have been through similar experiences several times – feeling unresponded, unappreciated and feeling that the trolls are so much better – they at least ignore the common man because of a visible reason: the lack of impact they have given their small follower base.

Being ignored by the celebs who count on their less exalted followers’ support to develop and sustain their online clout is utter class snobbery. But that is how stratospheric the world of Twitter or social media is.

There is no cross-sectional exchange – you scratch my back and I will scratch yours only if it is big enough to equal my stature.

Lies That Help Us Live

Taken from Pixabay

Many of us look down upon fiction. You will hear many people say smugly: Fiction is not for me. What is there to learn? They are stories after all. But those of us who do that don’t understand that fiction serves a vital need of our lives: it gives us the lies we need to live. It’s not that only those who read fiction resort to living in lies. All of us need our  fantasies.

Either we get them from the novels we read or movies we watch or we manufacture them ourselves. Remember the guy at the school whose uncle brought him things from around the world, or never stopped travelling to beyond-the-horizon locations, or did more incredible things, or the college friend or office colleague with a friend who partook in sexual escapades with wives of rich men and celebrities?

There are two things that characterize these lies. One is they are always about things we aspire to at a social or individual level and the other one is platforms used to set the lies on – it’s always an uncle or aunt, people who have floating presence in our lives, our lack of accountability for their actions making them perfect figures to build stories around or a distant friend who no one has seen and will never see because the person doesn’t exist just like the uncle.

The aspirational part is worth exploring. These lies or fantasies may come from unfulfilled (and in some cases unfulfillable) aspirations, but they also come from a yearning for social/economic equity. It can sometimes be targeted at an individual but that individual is a representative of a social class or is someone who aspires to a higher social class (pretention in fact is more enraging – because it adds an extra thing to the mixture – pseudo-ism).

These sentiments cut across age. With age, in some cases, the stories become more grounded.

However, it’s not that people who don’t wage their proxy wars through fantastical lies – and most of us don’t – don’t need lies. They also have their own lies – the only way their lies differ from those of their more colourful counterparts (like the ones told by the imaginative school or college friend) is that they are subtler.

Unlike their more colorful and incredulous counterparts which stem from iconoclastic convictions, the subtler lies enjoy greater social acceptability, questioning them can be frowned upon collectively.

Infallibility of community beliefs, glorification of simplicity (which can be anything from low brow-ness, general ignorance to earthiness), an extremely pious concept of honesty, dishonesty (which comes from an ‘ends being more important than means’ conviction – people subscribing to this belief generally look down upon honesty but they will support a govt on social media which claims to stand for it).

In fact, these sentiments are so universal that they sustain industries and careers. People idolize public figures – mainly film stars and cricketers – who they believe embody these attributes and take any criticism against them personally.

These lies are not eternal beliefs. They change or lose their hold on us but it mostly takes a generation. The subsequent generation looks back upon the follies and foibles of the prior generation with a critical approach. But then the subsequent generation falls prey to its own lies depending on the needs and aspirations of the times. And the cycle continues.