Sridevi’s death and how social media diminishes us all

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There is a thin line between moral outrage and free expression and online altruism and hypocrisy.

It’s always during significant events that human hypocrisy comes forth. We advocate sensitivity and go online to indulge our baser curiosities.

Did she do drugs, did she drink?

Why, could she even frown!

Oh my, did she really drown?

Did she, didn’t she?

 

Did you hear what they’re saying? Did you watch that news special?

Ridiculous! Outrageous. Let the poor soul rest in peace.

So, did you read that post?

Did you ‘share’ it? Did you ‘like’ it?

Did you?

 

I did. And I’m sure you did too. We speculate. We are all shocked and saddened. We are shattered. We post tributes. We have all cried a little and wasted no time in decrying all the rubbish being said.

But guess what, we’re all in it together. Yes, all of us.

 

 

For we are products of our age. We live completely vicariously today. We greedily consume all the rumours as gossip, all the gossip as information.

 

We reacted with horror and disgust when some people took selfies with a tribal youth before proceeding to beat him to death.

How inhuman! How despicable!

We condemn such behaviour strongly, don’t we.

Never mind that we then take selfies outside the residence of the deceased actor.

Never mind that we share videos of the actor’s ‘last dance’.

Never mind that we remain blithely blind to our own hypocrisy.

Today, it seems we are all easily outraged. And it’s not too difficult to see why.

For, it is so easy, to tweet, to post, to share, to like. And so easy to do nothing IRL (in real life).

 

“Social media platforms make it a lot easier to express outrage. It’s more dangerous to confront someone in real life than to tweet criticism about them.”

 

Yale neuroscientist Molly Crockett has researched moral outrage in the digital age and published a paper on it in Nature Human Behaviour.

In an interview on www.thriveglobal.com she talks about how new social media technologies make it incredibly easy for us to express an ancient emotion like moral outrage. Crockett explains: “Social media platforms make it a lot easier to express outrage — the tools for doing so are literally at our fingertips 24/7. This technology also lowers some of the costs of expressing outrage — it’s more dangerous to confront someone in real life than to tweet criticism about them.”

Ask any assault-survivor this, and he or she will concur. That most of us will stand around, watching (and taking videos/photos). That most of us will do nothing while the assault or something equally horrific is happening, like for instance the sheriff’s deputy officer during the shooting at the high school in Parkland. But we will be quick to change our Facebook profile photos and stand, figuratively speaking, in solidarity. And for good measure, we might even add a hashtag #metoo.

The good, the bad, the ugly

Crockett, in the interview, goes on to discuss how other scientists and researchers are working on exploring other facets of human behaviour today. For instance, how we use and are, in turn, used by social media — how “viral online altruism” can inspire collective action or how the Internet can increase “the potential for aggressive behaviour”. In fact, she goes on to ask whether “…social media might disconnect our expressions of outrage from our actual emotional experiences”.

 

 

Humans are flawed people. Yet, on social media, we seek to filter out all our flaws. Which is why today we live in a world where we create the stories we want to hear. We live connected yet cocooned lives. We block out the bad stuff when it suits us. We have versions of the truth — and yes, my version will differ from yours. At the same time, we also ensure that all this remains in circulation through our social networks. Till the next tragedy, another ‘inhuman’ act.

Or, perhaps, the next Taimur Ali Khan playdate.

The actor’s passing doesn’t just diminish us all. It exposes our hidden truths.

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