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Spiral of Silence and Social Media

We live in the post-truth world. The super-structures control what information we get and thanks to the pandemic, the biosphere itself is imposing upon us, a literal physical bubble that knowing the ground realities is nearly impossible for the common unwitting man. To escape this bubble imposed upon us, we fall right back into the trap of another bubble that is social media. Of course, there are multiple ways through which social media creates this tech bubble around us and one of them is the reinforced culture of silence it manifests for the marginalised communities. 


The elitism prevalent on social media is subtle and often goes unnoticed to the parochial eye. Endlessly and mindlessly scrolling through our social media feed we see the aesthetic chasing, wanderlust-ing, trend following-making-breaking upper-class elites talking, dancing and influencing their way through their privileged 'struggles'.


Before the infamous app TikTok was banned, it was a platform that was widely used by the underprivileged and the marginalised who had been, until now, excluded from mainstream representation - giving the power of expression directly into their hands. It provided a space where they could construct and control their narratives. As the app reached the deepest corners of the Indian Subcontinent, it simultaneously encouraged a spurt of "influencers'' who roasted TikTokers (read: used unfunny, classist slurs in the name of comedy) for content that did not pass their 'vibe check'. 


Then came the ban and with it, India's marginalised became, in a way, digital refugees who desperately sought asylum on other platforms, the answer to which was the capitalistic fulfilment of demand. Instagram came up with its idea of Reels and technically forced every content creator to use the feature. As these digital refugees found their niche on the app, they were followed by modern classism as well. This time the segregation and exclusion were technology-driven. 


The algorithm of Instagram deliberately pushes perfect and pretty looking reels with a millennial aesthetic. This aesthetic mostly reeks of class privilege wrapped in the garb of western pop music and Instagram filters which are all sepia-toned to a nauseating extent. This neatly packed digital divide between the rich and poor is peddled and sponsored by the corporate overlords and becomes a contributor to the culture of silence that is forced upon India's marginalised population which form the heart of this country. And no, it is not just Instagram, TikTok also pushed content that was considered conventionally pretty and pleasing. 


Moderators of TikTok were specifically told to suppress content from users who were 'too ugly' or 'too poor' to give it a sanitised image as a platform of creative expression. Two separate ideas of India exist on these social media platforms with an unsaid rule where no one tries to reach the other side. The two worlds exist along this digital partition and mustn't ever collide. At least the algorithm ensures that it doesn't.  


This disparity between the content produced or mass culture and the content consumed or popular culture is data- driven which designs these platforms in a way where you can be mocked and judged for your looks, accent, clothes and your language. These are the exact social capitals which the marginalised do not possess. They don't have access to an English speaking,posh-looking household or the economic feasibility of possessing a proper camera setup for content creation which will appease the algorithm.


This spiral of silence is reinforced where, behind the garb of anonymity, internet trolls attack every other opinionated human on the interweb. Women and LGBTQ+ have for long taken the brunt of this. From rape threats to death threats, women and the queer community is the largest demographic who’s most frequently targetted with viciousness.


The status quo that the internet was supposed to quash by democratising content creation has become a hegemonic and toxic space. 


The Oxfam-Newslaundry report, released in August 2019, also underlines the same issue of how the upper class has practically dominated the production of digital news on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Social activists have frequently observed that Twitter has withheld verifying accounts on premises that are mostly vague. This process of verification is completely opaque and discriminatory. 


 


Ten years into the advent of the internet and social media, all it has done is replicate the same hierarchies online as well. The purpose of these platforms was to give power of expression in the hands of the common man, instead, it became a tool of alienation that only seeks a mono-cultural world for people who wield power.  


Tags: twitter class facebook instagram social media algorithm


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