Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Social Identities on Social Media

In the recently held Indian elections, bitter electoral battles were not just fought between Congress and BJP, but between people who supported these parties, across different social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook.
Indian society has always been a society where social identities like, one's caste/ religion/ region have always been important factors for an individual. The social identities we have are usually something that we already become a member of, by virtue of our being born into these social groups. Our opinion is neither sought, nor taken seriously in these social memberships (caste/ religion still serious matters!).

Social identities also provide the context for the experiences that one has in his life. For example, if I am a Muslim from Delhi, I should be living in Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid area/ Okhla/ Nizamuddin, I should love non- veg dishes like qorma, biryani, nahari, I should dress in a particular way, vote according to Shahi Imam’s dictates, have a big family of siblings, and a large brood of my own! (phew!)  

Social media has changed many things in a traditional society like India. Earlier, we were just numbers of a social group, our individual lives/ experiences/ views were not important. Social media has made extended families to bond over Facebook, Whats App, Skype, everything from marriage, love to break ups are now shared on social media. It shows as an individual, my life, my experiences are important, my views (often unsolicited) are important, the world should be made aware of – if I am in love, if I have lost something/ someone, if I support a particular ideology, suddenly the routine things of sleeping/ waking up/ eating- what cuisine/ where, are all being shared by everyone on multiple mediums, everyday. The barrage of information (often useless, but sometimes very helpful), that we have just at the touch of a button is astounding!

Social media took time to make its followers in a society like India, where education levels are not very high, and it needs one to be literate, computer/ smart phone savvy, but the peer pressure of joining the bandwagon,  as the youngsters in villages and small towns of India are discovering the shiny new world of Facebook, etc. India is changing drastically, something that BJP/ AAP used to their advantage, and Congress lost, as they did not realize how impatient, how aware this social media adept new India is!   

New social identities are now being created on the basis of the political ideologies that one follows- left/ right/ liberal/ conservative. People are still fighting on Facebook, Twitter, post-elections, gaining new socio- political identities in the process. The political divide was never so sharp in Indian society, we were mostly passive voters, who voted mostly, under parental pressure, based on the caste/ regional/ religious background of the candidate! It still is the case in most of India, but we are more aware of the choices that we have and we are making. The new 24*7 media channels have played a big role in creating these identities for us. Now, we do not just want to be relevant by stating our opinions on different issues, but, we want to be Liked/ Retweeted/ Favorited/ Shared by our followers!  The NEW symbol of social prestige, and more important than people in our lives, more than family/siblings, etc. are the number of Followers/ Friends one has on these mediums, and it does not matter which country/ region/ caste/ class they belong to!! Identities, either social or personal, have the only purpose of satisfying our need for a ‘positive self image’ (Turner, 1981), and as new socio-political identities are created on social media, we can only wait and watch, if these identities weaken or strengthen traditional identities of caste/ region/ religion.   

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