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Sharing is not really caring

Updated on: 18 May,2024 04:24 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Lindsay Pereira |

There is no consensus on whether social media can have a positive impact, but everyone agrees on its potential for evil

Sharing is not really caring

I believe any platform that has the potential to cause serious harm ought to be monitored and am amazed at how our government mostly chooses to look the other way. Representation pic

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Sharing is not really caring

Lindsay PereiraI have no skin in this game because I deleted all my social media accounts a little over half a decade ago. It wasn’t a calculated move, just something that made sense at the time. I did it not only because I was increasingly uninterested in the daily lives of most other people, but because I saw how these platforms were beginning to have a negative impact on my mental health. I do not regret the decision and have no ‘fear of missing out’. This isn’t a column about how I now live a monk-like existence though; it is about governance and wilful ignorance when it comes to how we look at technology. I believe any platform that has the potential to cause serious harm ought to be monitored and am amazed at how our government mostly chooses to look the other way.

There are always a few outspoken supporters of social media; the ones who talk about its immense potential for good, its ability to give a voice to the marginalised or voiceless, or how it empowers people to generate alternative sources of income. All of this is probably true, but these positive aspects are almost always drowned out by the overwhelming negativity associated with these toxic platforms.

Countless studies have shown how social media affects young people in multiple ways, how it triggers social anxiety and depression, enables cyberbullying, exposes them to content that is not age-appropriate, and becomes increasingly addictive. There are an equal number of studies that focus on adults too. The fact that most of the ones I know can’t sit still for ten minutes without reaching for their phones ought to be a sign that none of this is normal. And yet, here we are, raised without a fuss as digital natives, trained to believe that this is just another giant leap for mankind on our perennial evolutionary road. There’s too much money at stake, after all, so why worry about naysayers?

A few years ago, when Facebook was yet to become a complete waste of time, adults began using it to share all aspects of their lives with anyone who happened to be on their list of ‘friends’. They told us where they were, what they were eating, where they were sleeping, how complicated their personal relationships were, and how they were feeling at all hours of every day. When Instagram became the platform of the hour, we were smothered by pictures and reels that made many of us hate our lives because we were primed to constantly compare how we lived with the way everyone else did. That issue has only been exacerbated by the rise of influencers who continue to believe that what they’re doing is a real job. And then came TikTok, prompting everyone and their aunt to believe that ‘content creation’ was as important as breathing. Insults, pranks, casual racism, and misogyny: it all became par for the course and has never stopped.

In April 2023, a report on social media governance commissioned by the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee on civil liberties pointed out that while social media has created vast opportunities to access and share information, these companies have brought new challenges for democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights. The report spoke of risks associated with content moderation, hate speech, the regulation of disinformation, media pluralism and the threat to existing news business models, among other serious concerns. I spent some time looking at what newspapers in India had to say about these things when the report was published and, unsurprisingly, found that almost nothing substantial came from the government on addressing any of these potential minefields. Radio silence was all we got because the focus was on religion, cricket and entertainment. Nothing has changed, and future generations will pay for this complacency.

Several countries have taken significant measures in recent years, to try and limit the damage caused by social media. There is Germany’s NetzDG law, for example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation that sets rules on how companies store and use data, and Australia’s Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Act. What I hope for is legislation in India on what tech companies can and cannot do, as opposed to simplistic and knee-jerk reactions such as blanket bans.

Then again, maybe I am just naïve, given the sources of most disinformation in India, and who arranges for the buying and selling of private user data. It’s like expecting thieves to start policing themselves.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira

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