By: Jyotsna Joshi
Human being is social by nature; intricately attached to the webs of societal relations. Often these relations manifest in the form of being related by blood and hence forming kith & kinship network, or being associated with each other at different levels of one’s career progression. However, it completely depends on each individual as to whom he counts in his social capital. With the advent of social media platforms like Facebook & WhatsApp, it has become easier to manage those connections that fall in the extended circles or form a part of the pre-existing social relations. Meanwhile platforms such as LinkedIn & Twitter are facilitating the users to voice their opinion and participate in discussions through those forums. Last but not the least, platforms such as Instagram are enabling people to share their personal information with their close circles, in the form of their activities. This makes the user behavior on social networks a critical area of attention; which highlights the time devoted by users in these platforms as a function of their self-demand, social-influence, and self-accreditation.
Social Media as an instrument of shaping individual identity
A recent study conducted by Kings University London, has pointed to a fact that social media has transformed from being technology to shaping identity. By providing voice and serving as a medium for expressing one’s opinions, it has created new circles of vicinity among people. In the same study it was quoted that social media has been affecting different brain functions in unique ways. In essence, accruing of Likes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn is not just an indicator of increased positive attention by people and their recognition of one’s works, but it also associated with the release of dopamine receptors in the brain which affect its decision making and emotion processing functions.
In the light of all this, if we scrutinize the content that is shared on social media platforms across all the age groups, some of the common groups that emerge are:
Relationship buffs: Most of the content from this category is aligned across associating their identity to that of that partner. It may be manifested through sharing their entire wedding album and hence spamming their friends’ screens, or sharing husband-wife jokes with added opinions, or catchy captions and copied phrases of songs contextualized against perfect landscapes that they have visited together. While it is entirely okay to be happy in each relationship, excessive branding of it tends to develop a sense of dependence- emotional and mental, which when not met may hurt the person caged in that identity.
Fitness & Health Enthusiasts: This group is characterized by people who are interested in fitting into the perceptions of a healthy body. Hence their shared posts might range from their participation in healthy activities like marathons, fitness/yoga camps, healthy eating etc. to sharing home based remedies for curing day-to-day maladies. These are the people who may believe in anything & everything sent to them in the name of health, say cooking in steel utensils is bad for health; which is well capitalized by health companies for selling their products to them.
Bandwagon joiners: This is the largest group- may include privileged as well as non-privileged people, irrespective of their education status. While the more educated in the name of supporting a social cause may join some group and hence start a war of ideas and words with those not supporting their cause. The less educated people confined in the boundaries of their social systems may take any piece of social commentary on the face of it and take sides based on the lines of religion, caste, and class, violating the very principles of human values. This group is characterized by name-calling, targeting & cornering its opponent in the name of some abstract theme; the very psychological objective of people in this group being forming cohorts with like-minded people.
Petition signers: This group of people believes that aggregation of votes might serve as a catalyst in speeding up any process. As a result, there are n-number of petitions floating on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn where people tend to seek support in favor of any outcome.
Self Actualizers: This segment shares its achievements through the social media platforms which can be clearing any examination, joining any premier institution, starting a job in any reputed institution, or undertaking any activity impacting a large number of people. They are the poster-children of social media who garner a lot of likes & comments in lieu with the advantages that people might foresee with a degree of association with them.
Google Live: These are the naivest of all. From sharing their live google locations and letting people know that they have visited any restaurant/cinema/country/hospital/someone’s home to sharing the results of their personality quizzes, their objective is to spread a word of their activities in their circles. This comes from the very basic tenet of seeking acceptance in how they are and what all they do.
Economics behind getting likes
Now comes the most critical part, of how to increase your social acceptance and presence. With some people (not being any celebrity) garnering more than 1000 likes and comments in their photos and shared items, there is a fetish among each most social media users to garner such a positive response. This manifests itself through various means:
1.Adding more and more people in your network, irrespective of the fact whether you know them or not. Often when someone gains a powerful position by the virtue of joining any premier institution/organization, there is a zeal among all those who have known him even in the faintest way, to be listed among the former’s friend circles on social media.
2.Commenting & Liking on each and every friend’s posts. This induces a responsive mechanism among all those links/friends whose posts are liked. In return, they too like and comment each time on this former person’s pictures/posts.
3. Creating a close coterie/group whom you tag and post pictures of. It creates not only a sense of belongingness among the people in this group, but against each and every random item they share through their social media, they draw assured number of likes & comments from members of this close group.
While attributes like group dynamics and relationship management come to play while dealing with the Social Media Platforms, it is increasingly hampering individual productivity by making it a function of social validation. Though the modes of gaining social validation may differ from person to person (relationship buffs, health freaks, bandwagon joiners, petition signers etc.), it is seen that the user behavior will be key in shaping the social networks and driving the digital world of the people.
The author holds a Masters from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and works as a public policy consultant with the Planning Department of Government of Andhra Pradesh