‘A code-run digital era, rapidly progressing towards virtual life’ is what humans on earth are at presently in history books. Be it young or old, wise or not, humans are living a virtual reality via social media. As it is so, a fundamental question to raise would be is it ‘legitimate’?
On the Internet, presently, one of the most viral topics is: ‘United States of America to ban Tik Tok’. Turning the clock back a few months into last year, Twitter was on a virtual upraise against Elon Musk becoming the sole owner of the said social media platform. A year before that, netizens were arguing back and forth about Facebook releasing metaverse and its validity.
In the present decade, social media and the power it renders to whom and how, has been the roots of most conflicts online. It raises the question of ‘why?’. Why is the present generation of human beings so concerned with social media platforms and virtual realities?
As the world becomes more and more digitized by the second, it is significant to possess a virtual identity to hold a competitive advantage in any field, and in such a way social media renders the most viable platform to establish oneself without many repercussions or requirements into the networking algorithms. Hence why the present generation is more concerned of losing these virtual platforms now more than ever.
The global citizen has come to rely on social media platforms as their place of democratic expression, relying on the ‘freedom of expression’ slogans that tech companies advertise with. And maybe it is, but that is a debate for another day. The matter at hand is that the present generation has become reliant on democracy being delivered via these virtual platforms. They cannot be blamed when it certainly has rendered itself to be true in particular circumstances. The Aragalaya of 2022, the #blacklivesmatter movement, #metoo, the Arab springs prove to be examples as well.
However, these platforms are not ‘legitimate’, at least not wholly. Which is why governments all over the world and thinkers are concerned about social media influencing the sphere of politics in a ‘misleading’ way. The 2020 documentary film, ‘Social Dilemma’ showcases how the agenda behind the algorithm and technologies of these well adored media platforms are simply there to generate revenue by any means, to the extent that a person’s whole train of thought may be manipulated.
Yet, governments are hypocritical in this concern of theirs over Tik Tok campaigns and twitter anti-government hashtags, as they too use the same platforms to gain the votes for positions of power. As seen in the 2020 USA presidential election campaigns in which twitter and Facebook usage held a significant role.
Leaving aside the double standards of people in power, the legitimacy of social media —the riddle of the decade—is still unsolved. However, an answer may be obtained through a change of lens in perspective.
Rather than questioning the code-run and man-made social media platforms of their legitimacy, a better solution would be to look at the person behind the virtual cloak —who holds the access to the legitimate or illegitimate values to their content.
For better understanding, when the CEO of ByteDance Ltd, Shou Chew, was questioned, ‘does Tik Tok support genocide?’ His answer was a clear ‘no’. But he also later said that Tik Tok promotes freedom of speech. Here, even though the platform doesn’t support genocide, a person who may hold genocide as a value still has the freedom to express their opinions.
Therefore it is apparent how the legitimacy of social media is rather ambiguous and cannot be seen as simply black and white, right or wrong.
Albeit, it is not to be said that social media doesn’t need any legitimation or regulation. As per Gilad Abiri and Sebastian Guidi, it is a heavily growing concern which may cripple the tech companies if they do not face the legitimacy crisis at present as it is. And it is a work-in-progress, though one that is questionable. Why is the legitimacy of the modern era information and communication ruled and dictated by a few multi-millionaires? Why is it that the process of legitimization resembles a monarchical system rather than a democratic one? Such concerns are valid from a global democratic audience. The answer would be, social media is not as simple or as similar as any of the present legal systems. It is fundamentally too complex to begin to even understand. What users see is simply one of the many facets that these platforms can have.
In a nutshell, social media is in a questionable position regarding legitimacy. It is always wise to take social media and the content given in it with a grain of salt, better safe than sorry, right?
Penned by Rtr. Ahraphy Arivalzahan