Twenty years back it would have been hard for us to believe that there would come a time when one could have access to a political party’s manifesto with just a few clicks. Or ten years back one wouldn’t fathom a world where someone by only sharing a few posts sitting in India could easily participate in an American political movement, an example of such a phenomenon like Black Lives Matter. Or the first place for a political leader to address a matter would not be public speech or news channels but through something as simple as a tweet on Twitter. In the 21st century it is considered a divergence from the mainstream when we encounter an individual without a social media handle. These places have evolved and transgressed far beyond the expectations of its creators as well as the users. With this large participation and presence of citizens on these platforms and digital spaces it becomes important to know the far-reaching impact of these apps and platforms on your lives. As a consumer of the social media platform, the majority of the people only have a very restricted understanding of the functionalities and intricacies of social media apps and platforms, which is alarming considering the large amount of time and attention we invest on these digital platforms and spaces.

Other factors that contribute to the urgency of consumers to become more aware about the impact of social media platforms is the fast advancement in technology. This has made accessibility to apps like Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram more convenient and easier.  With the spread of social media usage, the goal of the same has expanded from merely engagement of people with each other across the globe to other fields as well. With the enormous number of users which only increase every day, social media is no longer just a platform to connect with people or for advertisement purposes. It has now managed to seamlessly enter the political domain. Due to the rapid development of these apps and their functioning it has become a challenge for an average individual to keep up with its impact on their life. With advancement in Artificial Intelligence and its implementation on the functioning of social media apps has led us to a time that has side effects that we are still unaware of. The part where individuals are unaware of its impact is what is the most terrifying aspect this rapidly growing industry. The virtual world appears to be unharmful and we have grown to be ignorant towards its influence on us. Individuals have become inattentive towards the ever-increasing impact of social media not just on our day-to-day life but also on their ideology and perception of things. This impact is not a theoretical concern but has already manifested itself in the real world and came into the public discourse through the case of Cambridge Analytica which was followed by people become keen to learn and spread awareness about the implications of social media.

With increase in research and intervention the most ground-breaking research that emerged is The Echo Chamber Effect on social media[1]. This research was concluded in the year 2021 by the University of Oslo. In the study it was seen that exposure to other viewpoints may be limited by social media platforms, which also encourages the establishment of echo chambers—groups of people who share the same views—and the framing and reinforcement of that narrative. On social media platforms, however, there are significant differences in user engagement paradigms and feed algorithms. This study examines the significant variations across the popular social media sites and how they may affect how information spreads and the development of echo chambers, which were seen to be really problematic.

This is concerning because first such a pattern can lead to consolidation of a false or even extreme ideology. Such an environment robs an individual of their right and choice to form an informed and unbiased perception. Because the confirming idea doesn’t produce a counter argument in the consumer’s mind. The product of the algorithm in perseverance to increase the engagement time feeds the information which is not contradictory to consumers perception. The lack of opposing ideas is problematic because the extreme consolidation of a specific idea in individuals’ life is not taking place through a conscious choice, it is happening because a digital algorithm decided to do so.

With this understanding we can realise how we have let go of the reins over the technology and given it the command to regulate and formulate our perception. Because during the times when the presence of social media is undeniable it indeed results in altering and influencing use ideology. Even though this realization has set in late in the public discourse, now we should focus on how to tackle this issue. So that we can once again take back the human capability and power to form individual-independent thoughts with the absence of great influence.

Author – Ms. Eeshita Patyal, Intern, CyberPeace Foundation
Reviewed – Mr. Abhishek Singh, Research Associate, CyberPeace Foundation

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