I’m admitting today, I don’t get how social media/networks works. When I read yesterday that facebook has killed their organic reach algorithms completely, my immediate thought was “oh great, no reason to stick around here anymore.” Many folks stated how it made business sense for facebook, but I can’t wrap my head around how a social network goes from being 50% networking and 50% business opportunity enhancer to 100% marketplace, making you pay for everything you need to do to use it to your advantage. Perhaps this has been a long time coming, and is the general direction in which the internet itself is going to move, but I still don’t get it.
Many years ago, when I was still undecided about my stance on fb, I remember saying out loud that I don’t get how its possible to be fb friends with someone who has openly expressed a dislike for you in real life. I got told off my a “friend” then, that I didn’t get how facebook worked and that I should probably stay off it for good. And so, I did. For almost three years.
I’ve since figured out what fb can do for me, made peace with its inherent hypocrisy and realised where it can work for me. In the bargain, I have enjoyed that I have control over what I see, who I engage with and how much I want to indulge in any given engagement. I’ve said this before, amongst the things that made the return to fb fun was the increased interaction over issues. In the years I was away fb seemed to have moved from a space for sharing moments in our lives to discussing, debating, cross questioning everyday issues of personal, national and global interest. I have truly enjoyed some of the discussions I have witnessed, participated in and even watched from the fringes. But I have also not enjoyed some parts of it. Last year, around the time of the election my fb list got self-weeded out a bit. By May 16, I wished so many of my friends hadn’t aired their political views so openly because I couldn’t help but alter my perceptions about them, once I had read all that they have written, shared and openly liked. It manifested in limited interactions with some, surprise bonhomie with others, and in some unfortunate cases a complete severing of ties. Things I hadn’t noticed as problematic about these friends, their actions, lives and thoughts, I suddenly began to notice with hyper-sensitivity. I began to question things a lot more deeply and slowly but surely I have realised that what manifests as a shrill political view is seldom restricted to just a political view. Whether far right or left, it creeps into the general ethic of your life itself. How you view basic relationships, approach situations, your attitudes, your stance on various global and sociological issues, your style of communication, your speech, dialogue, and even just the way you conduct yourself, is dictated by your ethic and belief system.
The knowledge of it (about most people I know) has made me pointedly aware and almost self-conscious in my interactions with them.
It’s no wonder then that the only true conversation that remains on my feed today is mainly of a bunch of friends who relentlessly question the Good Days we have been blessed with, dialogue it, air their beliefs no matter how minor they may be. Apart from that there’s a good load of discussions on kitchen gardening, home schooling, baking, writing and other creative pursuits. All the things I can vibe with, basically. It’s happened rather organically, by process of natural selection, only the posts and people I have open communication with, stay on top of my feed. A look at my feed on any given day is so telling of which of my friends I have how much commonality with. It’s also telling of a certain discomfort with sharing opinions with those who might or might not always feel the same way. It tells a tale of how raising questions that certain segments of people feel shouldn’t be asked can only be done amongst those who are on the same side as you. I have the fb algorithm to thank for this.
Quite unconsciously all of social media gets divided into us and them, no matter which side of the fence you are on. Fragmenting people on the basis of their opinions, forming extreme factions, leaving little room for those in the gray. People in the gray, as well as issues that lie in the grey. This new pattern of so called communication may inherently also be killing all essential dialogue.
Increasingly I see this happening on twitter too. Until recently, I had a private account and I used twitter mostly as a means to share links, read posts and links that interest me, that reach me via someone I have chosen to connect with based on a mutual interest or connection. But ever since I made my account public, my tl has been flooded by a shitload of new followers, and my feed on any given day is populated with things I wasn’t previously used to seeing. It leaves me equal parts amused, curious, surprised. Sometimes pleasantly, and sometimes in the rudest way possible.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to air an opinion, just voice it. It takes absolutely no time for a mere statement of opinion, to be taken as a personal attack to someone’s belief system and your reaction is met with a defensive, angry counter-argument. What happened yesterday has fortunately or unfortunately altered my stance towards twitter too. It’s the beginning of training myself to do on twitter, what I do on fb — watch and be amused, but whatever you do, do not engage.
It helped that about half a dozen people (most unknown followers on twitter) messaged in to say I was right to back off from “the spat” (I seriously didn’t think it was spat until it was pointed out to me — seriously, twitter spat is a thing?) because the person I was arguing with had no real point to make. One of them went so far as to say you can’t fight an idiot (this is not the word the person used, though. Im being polite :)) with logic because they drag you down and beat you with experience.
And I realised that’s just it. Shrill views, I can tolerate. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when did it become wrong to share an opposing view? When did that become such a cause for threat? Combine that insecurity with obstinacy and belligerence and you have a perfect recipe for zero communication. Zero dialogue. Zero understanding, sharing and exchange of views. And correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t that kind of the point of social media, at some point in the past?
Twitter and fb have shown me a lot of things I didn’t know. When I have the time and patience for it, I’m always up for a different point of view. When I see someone knows something I know nothing about, Im quick to virtually drag a chair and join in the discussion. I’m naturally curious and have a huge appetite for debate. So far I’ve been very lucky with having come across enough people online who are of the same wavelength, and indulge this side of me.
But I do not know what to make when a mere statement that could lead to an intelligent discussion, unravels very quickly into an unnecessarily defensive and borderline ugly “spat” with everybody getting so personal and dragging it down to the language of “BS” and “shit.”
So I’ll admit again, I don’t get how this form of social networking works. Especially after yesterday, which was possibly the most active day I’ve ever had on twitter. I spend most of my time on twitter passively looking at what people have to say, but every now and then something pops up that makes me want to react. More importantly, I’m prompted to react when the tweet comes from someone I assume to be open to discussion and debate/sharing, even if we never agree, or openly choose to disagree. I’ve done this a lot on twitter and fb, and some of the best interactions online have been such discussions where I’ve been able to see a point of view I didn’t know existed, or made to see another opinion, see it, acknowledge it, accept it, even if I don’t agree with it. I think that is so critical to communication itself, online or otherwise.
The ability to agree to disagree, in a civil well-mannered way has always been my scale to judge a healthy level of communication. By that parameter, my relationship and communication with the hugsband is probably the healthiest. We rant and rave, fight tooth and nail, take each other down over many things. Sometimes we agree humbly, many times we storm off in a rage, only to return to say okay, we can agree to disagree. But no matter what the outcome, we don’t reach those conclusions without seeing the other person’s point of view, at the very least. But its only possible where there is room for logic, some kind of rational, and humble debate. You can only communicate when the channel for communication is open and willing. Increasingly I feel there is so little space for this online. We only want to huddle around with people who will mutely agree with us, or openly disagree with us. We don’t want to share our views and enlighten each other, we’d much rather sit atop our sky-high ivory towers and pontificate endlessly, never once bothering to look at what’s happening outside and around us. Online or otherwise.
Oh and btw, in case you care to know the discussion yesterday was about Freedom of Expression, in relation to the FIR filed and probe ordered into the AIBRoast. After a point it wasn’t about the video anymore, it wasn’t even about comedy, but essentially about just allowing for someone to share an opinion, regardless of whether it’s something you like, can bring yourself to see, or agree with.
This response by the guys at AIB pretty much sums up what I feel and what I was trying to get across, but failed wholeheartedly, because it’s kind of hard to get across to anything that is blinkered, yet opinionated. Lethal combination, that.
Essentially it was about how the larger debate about freedom of expression, no matter how cool it may be to offer your two-bit about, cannot be linked to the issue of the AIBRoast through wide swathes of misinformed illogical statements. You cannot talk of FoE without an understanding of context and consent. And as for the Roast, the context is Insult Comedy, the very basis of which is crass, vulgar, offensive attacks on celebrities who consented to participate in wholeheartedly. If you’re the kind who is easily offended, look away. If you’re the kind who cannot be bothered and isn’t very opinionated, watch and enjoy. But you cannot watch it, claim it is crass and offensive, and then say its no different from Kumar Vishwas’ kali-peeli comment, or that the people who enjoy insult comedy can’t call out instances of fat-shaming, racist, misogynistic “comedy.” If you have an opinion, pick a side and stick by it. I just wish people cared to think a little before they flapped their gums on twitter. Or if that’s too much to ask, I wish they’d at least google it before they tweet about it!
These lines sum it up for me:
We respect arguments that are critical, and as for the arguments we don’t, we respect your right to make them without impediment. It is a courtesy we wish worked both ways.
And that really was the point at which I stepped away from the argument.
The other day, a vehement AAP supporter on my fb posted a status message that made me reach out and send across a PM, because I was touched by it. Not because of the person’s political leanings or what the status message said, but because in a world where increasingly those without these shrill views (on anything!) are being silenced because they’re not easily offended, or don’t indulge in online slugfests big and small, it’s very refreshing to have an honest opinion being openly shared. I commended the lighthearted status message and expressed how I’ve censored myself on fb a lot in recent time, because of the reactions it causes. From friendships being broken to being rapped on twitter to being unnecessarly entangled in an idiotic argument, I’ve seen it all.
“They’ve only won when we say they have. Until then, game on!” came the response.