Facebook is not all bad. It has a positive influence on our psyche in many ways, say experts to Parshathy. J. Nath

From a networking site that began with the simple objective of getting people connected, to a highly personalised space where everything in life transforms into an update, Facebook has become a powerful presence in most of our lives. According to a few psychologists and social commentators, it exerts a strong and positive influence on our psyche in many ways.

Rejoyson Thangal, assistant professor in Applied Psychology, Pondicherry University, says that for many, status updates are survival mechanisms as they feel that at least some one out there is listening to them. Minu Sara Paul, a student says: “You get the feeling you want to scream out to the world, right? That is when I put up a status.” Jishnu Ramakrishnan, a student, says that nobody listens to him in the real world like they do on Facebook.

Online chats on Facebook play a crucial role in helping people overcome their inhibitions. Minu says she is more comfortable with chatting than talking as typing allows her to have control over what she says. C.J. John, chief psychiatrist, Medical Trust Hospital, Cochin, says these networking sites are relationship initiators for people who are shy and introverted.

The anonymity factor

He says, “Anonymity is one important factor on Facebook. The shy ones feel more confident to relate to the world and express themselves at ease without the fear of any immediate reactions from the other side.”

The line dividing the shy and the smart, or the geek and the cool one, blur in the virtual world. For example, the poet or the rebel in you that was never spotted in the real world can be brought to the fore on Facebook through your links, photos and status updates. Rejoyson Thangal says it helps people to customise their identity. “The virtual world gives you anonymity and freedom to build your identity and carve a niche for yourself.”

Multiple identities

Many people have multiple identities on one or several online accounts. Sabyasachi Biswas, a journalist who has six accounts on virtual platforms including Facebook, says, “When I use my professional account, I am a serious person but when I use my gamer account the gamer in me comes out. How I behave depends on how the online community treats me based on my username.”

According to Seema Khanwalkar, a semiotician and visiting faculty at Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University and National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, it is healthy and positive to adapt to a “flexible self”. In her seminar paper, “Fluidity of Web Enabled Identities on the Internet” presented in St. Teresa’s College, Cochin, she argues, “We as human beings are cultured into believing in one ‘autonomous ego’, a ‘centred self’. But multiple identities online have forced us to rethink the ‘centred ego’.” She remembers a professor who took classes in the morning and danced in the bars at night and was comfortable in both identities. “He was open about this side of his personality. How many of us can afford to do that in real life? However online, these schisms in our character are legitimised.”

The relatively liberal ambience of Facebook and online networking sites in general, allows people to explore their different selves. It democratises our notions of gender. This makes them better platforms to engage with identity related social issues. For instance, Rejoyson Thangal says Facebook helps homosexuals assert their identity. “Here they can assume the sexuality they are comfortable with and do not have to conform to socially prescribed roles.”

Be it status updates, sharing thoughts, exploring new sides to your personality, Facebook provides you a free and fair platform to air your ideas. However, such a flexible medium naturally has a potential for misuse. As C.J. John says: “Glamorisation of this medium among youngsters has reached a stage where anything from social issues to personal life crises boils down to a few likes.” He adds: “If judiciously used it is a good medium that allows you to express yourself and reach out to the world.”