While Facebook has over 26 crore users in India and Twitter has 77.5 lakh, Instagram is becoming the social media of choice for young Indians to express their political and personal views. Instagram’s 24-hour story cycle and locked features make it the perfect bubble for views that are not subject to workplace or family scrutiny. Instagram has 6.9 crore users in India, and more than 70 per cent of its users globally are less than 35 years of age.
ThePrint asks: Not Twitter or Facebook, is Instagram the new safe space for political opinion in India?
There is hate-mongering on Instagram, but not as much as that on Facebook and Twitter
Reporter/ Sub-editor, ThePrint
The word ‘safe’ is both a privilege and a mirage in the public space. In the age of social media-generated public opinion that often translates into opinion of the larger public, one’s political opinion is barely ever only personal, or ‘safe’. It is only the degree that varies from one social media platform to another.
The letter is clearly mightier because it can urge one to pick up swords, and that way, even the character limit for Twitter posts has not been able to stop people from spewing hatred.
While Instagram has always been more of a photo-sharing medium, it has often been used to express political views in a visually-appealing way, and has allowed women to embrace their bodies like no other. But this doesn’t mean that there’s no hate-mongering on Instagram.
The kind of responses one gets on an Instagram post can be inflammatory or derogatory, but since one often chooses whom to follow in terms of niche categories, the extent of hatred displayed might be less than that seen on Facebook or Twitter. There is also the option of making one’s profile personal and public, which has an impact on the kind of responses one’s political opinion might get.
One also has the option of restricting comments on one’s Instagram post. But one look at the direct message option will reveal that this provision doesn’t stop people from sending vicious reactions. The handle of ‘redheadwayfarer’ of actress Saloni Chopra is an example of how political opinions shared on Instagram are often targeted mercilessly.
Unlike Facebook & Twitter, Instagram has little space for hatred because here pictures matter more than words
As we discuss the kind of political discourse seen on different social media platforms, we need to understand that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have different designs. If you have all these three applications on your phone, you have an option to react in three different ways to a political issue.
Facebook is more like a mohalla chaupal where all your close relatives and acquaintances reside and post personal comments that may offend you or, better say, ‘hurt’ you. It is an extended version of WhatsApp, which is more of a private space. Facebook is like using WhatsApp in a public space.
Twitter is more like a newsroom or say ‘unparliamentary Parliament’ where you can receive brickbats from anyone. It’s like a large number of people watching TV sets in a big hall and simultaneously discussing and commenting. So, as far as posting and analysing political opinions on these platforms are concerned, Facebook and Twitter can be nothing less than a nightmare.
However, Instagram is quite different. Here, words don’t matter as much as photographs. If someone puts up an irrational comment, one can easily block him or her and move on. It is like engaging in a one-side communication, a creative form of communication where people make space only for appreciation. There is no window for hatred here. However, we can’t deny the fact that hatred might find its way into this photo-sharing platform as well. Instagram, so far, has remained ‘safer’ than other social media applications.
Instagram still largely remains untouched by the presence of those nosy relatives or prying parents
Social media has become an essential part of the lives of millennials. From posting about our daily lives to ranting about whatever wrong is happening around us, social media is the new coping mechanism to deal with all of it. But in this day and age, even Instagram has become important in terms of expressing one’s political opinion.
After Facebook erupted with the presence of one’s parents and relatives, Instagram has emerged as a safer space — or rather, an echo-chamber — to express oneself.
Millennials keep jumping from one social media platform to another because they want to stay away from prying eyes. With the rise of the anti-CAA movement in India, the youth of today have become even more vocal about the things happening around them.
But the problem arises when one has views contrary to the majoritarian view. In this case, that majority can also include your relatives and parents. I had to stop sharing my political views on WhatsApp stories and Facebook because I would receive a call from my father every now and then, asking me to take down content with even a hint of anti-establishment views. So, I turned to Instagram, which I am sure a lot of us are on. It is a space that has still largely remained untouched by the presence of those nosy relatives or prying parents.
Facebook has become toxic. For now, Instagram seems like least uncomfortable place to share political opinion
When I joined Facebook in 2011, it was the coolest thing on the Internet. Waking up scrolling Facebook would make your day. But everything changed over time. And because people constantly share their political opinions, often quite divisive, this platform has become very toxic.
I come from a small town, so it took quite a while to understand how important Twitter is. It is still a platform that is mostly used by people in big cities. The presence of relatives, the not-so-known people, opinion setters, media, IT cells of political parties on Facebook has made it tough for politically-aware social media users to communicate their views.
Instagram is not as old as Facebook and Twitter. It was launched to supposedly compete with lighter photo-sharing platforms such as Snapchat and Tumblr. The last two platforms are anything but political. And Instagram has completely eaten into the space of both of these non-political platforms. But now due to anti-CAA protests, even Instagram has become political.
Learning from the not-so-good experiences on Facebook and Twitter, people have become quite selective and private on platforms such as Instagram. There is no doubt that with the kind of privacy features it offers, it is the least uncomfortable place at least for now to share one’s political opinion.
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By Unnati Sharma, journalist at ThePrint
Whatever the medium of choice, fear and hate cannot become the dominant emotion for India’s national discourse. It will start paying a diminished dividend for its authors, lower our image and prestige in the world. Consider the assessments President Trump and his team would have carried back about their new comprehensive global strategic partner.
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