There’s a very stark difference in between how people elder to me and I use social media. It seems that while they take breaks from work to scroll through their timelines, my day is rather filled with social media with tiny breaks in between for work. I might not be alone in my observation.
Experts claim that the difference between the Gen-Z and Millennials is that of ‘social media natives’ (i.e grew up with social media) and ‘internet natives’ (i.e grew up with the internet). Today, almost 71% of Indians between 18 to 34 years use Facebook alone for 1–2 hours. It is therefore of utmost importance to understand how social media affects youngsters in the sphere of politics and activism.
Compared to Indian millenials who grew up in politically unstable times [Rajiv Gandhi’s Assassination (’91), Ayodhya Riots (’92), Mumbai Blasts (’93), New Economic Policies (’96), Kargil War (’99)], the crises faced by Gen-Z have been supplemented by the rapid growth of technology and the internet, connected to thousands of people online, aware of the struggles others went through.
As opposed to elders who were wary of strangers on the internet, Gen-Z has embraced this quality, easily distinguishing between who to communicate with and who not to. There’s a further contrast in how they consume news — with almost 200 Million adults on Whatsapp, the phenomenon of fake news has almost quadrupled.
Pankaj Jain, founder of SMHoaxSlayer (an Indian agency busting fake news), says that “The only driving force in fake news in the existing, strongly-held bias among adults, who like to hear sugar-coated lies in the name of country, religion or community, while elsewhere there is someone minting money from such lies.” The phenomenon was becoming so apparent that Whatsapp was forced to interfere and introduce new policies, like limits on forwarding, a fund for fact-checking, and an ongoing Google-search feature. For adults who grew up in completely different times, there’s a bias against international sources, which is why the probability of trusting fake news is greater in the older demographic.
Social media websites operate on algorithms and formulas. Their main purpose is to engage users as much as they can. So it’s fairly obvious that to engage them, social media websites will have to show users things that they want to see.
Unintentionally, by using algorithms, social media giants keep showing us things we believe in or ideas that we rely on. So if my google history is predominantly filled with women’s issues and I constantly communicate with organizations/people working in that sector, my timeline too will be bombarded with these topics.
At first glance, it’s hard to see a problem with this — it’s great to know that these people are customising a great feed for you. But what they’re also creating are ‘political silos’- echo chambers that keep us away from new and different ideas that we don’t currently believe in. This puts us around people with similar opinions, and we get comfortable in our ideologies without questioning our beliefs or exposing ourselves to new ideas. In the age of click-bait articles, this problem is only consolidated.
So how is social media affecting how we deal with politics? Well, not only is it controlling the way we think about political discourse, it is also radically dismantling it.
It is easy for adults who are out of sync with social media to make fun of young people. What they miss is that when a young person is on their phone, they’re constantly interacting with thousands of people with thousands of ideas. Social media has become an arena for activism, creating movements of its own. Hashtags, GIFs, or tweets have become drivers of change.
Some of the most popular movements in past years were the #MeToo Movement (when men/women across the globe ousted their harassers, leaving them at the mercy of the public), the #BlackLivesMatter Movement (which even has been a movement for activists for decades, gained unprecedented momentum when it came on social media), or the #ASLBucketChallenge (when celebrities came together to raise money through a viral challenge).
These movements are so beautifully united and emotional that people forget something extremely crazy about them — they’re all happening on the internet. It’s very easy to scoff at these changes, and believe that social media has normalised problems and made injustice a way of life. But it also looks like it has opened doors for a completely new kind of justice and activism. In a way, while earlier activism was limited to the streets, social media has allowed the youth to take it to the internet, not bound by spatial or time barriers. Social media has revolutionised communication and connection in ways that were unprecedented — it’s important to realise that by simply existing online, we too are becoming a part of the world’s political history.
The objective of a ‘Think Article’ is to bring knowledge about policies in the sphere, in context to the youth of India and, if possible, influencing the policy process. The article has no motivation to pass any political judgments.
- “Facebook Users In India By Age And Gender | Statista”. Statista, 2019, https://www.statista.com/statistics/717615/india-number-of-facebook-users-by-age-and-gender/. Accessed 12 Apr 2020.
- Kumar, Ruchi. 2020. “The Growing Tide Of Fake News In India”. Aljazeera.Com. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/growing-tide-fake-news-india-171210122732217.html.