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.