Social Media and its social Norms

Social Media and its social Norms

In the ancient times, people regularly gathered in the evening for en­gagement and entertainment. While it used to be an hour of leisure for them, they also exchanged informa­tion and had discourses on import­ant issues of the day. Today, even though the rate of getting things done is exponentially higher than before, it is an accepted truth that the average person barely finds time to sit and sip wine with friends and family. Although technology has made work easier and faster, it has also increased the demands placed on students and workers to respond quickly, meet endless agendas and addictively produce results to get ahead in the rat race. Saying that, it is normal for one to wonder how people fulfill their need for social engage­ment and belongingness in the pres­ent times. Everyone figures a way out to find contentment. For some, it could be a personalised schedule one follows to call their dear ones every night. For most, a consistent and major resolution is provided by social media. Globally, social media users spend about 2.5 hours each day on these networking platforms. What was initially a simple aid for social­izing with people has turned into a world of its own with polls, live ses­sions, digital communities and business markets spreading like wildfire. Social Media can be defined as an over­arching term for online communication tools which enable people to interact with each other through sharing and receiv­ing information. These include websites as well as applications, which are highly affordable in most places. As you must be aware, some of the most used applications are Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. They facilitate collaborating and building relationships, both personal as well as professional. In India, currently over 50% of the population invests time in social media (Keelery, 2020). It is interesting to note that in recent years, young people engage much more on In­stagram and Snapchat, separating themselves from the older trend of Facebook. However, Facebook has become the land for elder people coasting through their fifties. One fair interpretation of this turn of events could be that most older adults invested lots of time and energy to get used to the me­chanics of Facebook. They do not have the need to move towards instagram as long as people of their age engage on Facebook. Another observation could be how digital socialization has absorbed yet anoth­er quality of real interactions which take place in communities. Take the example of a simple house party. In the beginning, the older and young­er adults sincerely exchange love and talks. As the party progresses, the younger kids are found goofing around on their own, while the old­er ones form a chatty circle of their own. This is a plain analogy for how the Facebook and Instagram dy­namic played out. Unlike online vir­tual-reality games, the online social networks are not simply simulated experiences. They have real emotional and social impact.

Though a virtual entity, social me­dia has become a crucial component of our social world. These days, it is absolutely common to hear about a couple getting married, which met on social media, or a physical fight breaking out subsequent to an in­ternet squabble. Through the years, people have identified numerous pros and cons of social media. It has indeed made it very easy to reach out to people, spread necessary in­formation (we are basically surviv­ing COVID-19 because of it), aid shy or otherwise laconic individuals to make friends. At the same time, it has major privacy concerns, inappro­priate content and is a serious con­stant source of distraction. Despite so much understanding about the phenomenon, there is one aspect of it which is often kept arcane, which is how “expectation-based” it can be. A group be­havioural perspective shows that digital interactions are not very different from the social reality we have always experi­enced, the one with its inhibiting factors of conformity. This is yet another strong social phenomenon of on-ground com­munity interactions which seems to be functioning on these internet networks now.Expectations carve norms. So­cial norms are perceived stan­dards of appropriate behaviour which guide the members of a community about what oth­ers expect of them. These ex­pectations influence people's thoughts, emotions and actions. It is liberating to think of social media platforms as showcases of individuality and raw, hon­est self-expression. However, it may be time for us to re-evaluate the extent to which such authenticity exists. For example, the most active users of social media are the content creators, whose business depends on the image and products they promote. These creators usually control the kind of content which goes viral and influences other us­ers who interact with them as spectators or consumers. Hereon, a vicious circle begins- The influencers are hesitant to reveal more of their unfiltered self, because they fear losing followers, and the following users are naturally entangled in the ongoing trend. This is to say that social media creates social norms and a pres­sure to conform, much like the social groups do in real spaces.
Although norms determine be­haviour on an individual level, they can predict the future shifts in overall group behaviour. Con­sider two ordinary occurrences. In the first, a celebrity posts their vulnerable side, or when a social rebellion erupts and people are patronized if they don’t engage about it online. In the first case, if the risk of breaking out of the social norm of perfection works well, the celebrity is dispropor­tionately praised for being hon­est, sharing their struggles and sen­sitivities- and then talking about your weaknesses on social media becomes more acceptable.

In the second case, the people who do not participate in expressing their emotions about top­ics everyone is furious about are ver­bally attacked on digital media to the point where they either consciously or subconsciously conform, or quit using the platform for sometime. As these instances reflect, social norms can work out wonderfully to bring change and make our society more progres­sive. Alternately, they can easily be hostile forces feeding misunderstand­ings and bitterness.
In every social space, norms can be descriptive, injunctive, prescriptive, proscriptive or subjective. Descrip­tive norms help members under­stand what happens and injunctive ones guide about what should happen. Prescriptive and proscriptive norms indicate what one should and should not do, respectively. With informal communities comprising people’s personal Instagram accounts, these norms are usually unwritten, and are continuously evolving. Subjective norms take their lion’s share of toll on the members of these communities. Many expend great energy to notice and match what’s being welcomed and validated. As with most other psy­chological phenomena, this process takes place unknowingly, and break­ing out of it takes conscious effort.A holistic view is necessary. Social norms have their own pros and cons just like social media does. They have survival value as new­comers feel more secure and are kept safe as they learn to tread along unfamiliar territory. Most good values are originally instilled primarily through social norms, and a basic level of peace is main­tained in communities. It of course comes at the cost of losing parts of one’s individuality, increased de­pendency and consequent hazards in case the influential members of the group advance an unjustified so­cial norm. In a nutshell, people don’t need to resent normative behaviour all together; they can’t. Instead, it is im­portant to be conscious that the social influences and their impact is not re­stricted to the physical social spaces, but can very much be observed online. It can be useful to be mindful when one is acting according to how they believe other people expect them to behave. Being in concordance with others’ ex­pectation is not wrong per se, as long as it is not the only cause behind an action.

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Shibani Chakravorty

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