By Sanchita Khurana:
Many theorists and critics have written about the all-engulfing power of social media. These critiques emerge from a subterranean fear of being overtaken by new media forms as a whole new dynamics of social interaction spreads itself before these analysts. Websites like Facebook and Twitter, especially, have changed the whole meaning of communication, interpersonal and social. As one broadcasts oneself through updates, there is an expectation to be understood in a certain way and that expectation is never frustrated for a user because any interaction generated in response within this cyberspace is itself a result of a desired projection of an image/viewpoint. It is to be kept in mind that the image projection on Facebook bases itself on an exclusively modern kind of assurance of “privacy“. Having a Facebook account, amounts to having a (desired) personality online.
In this light, the recent news about the state of Washington DC allowing its citizens to register to vote on Facebook develops implications far beyond singular analysis. Politics of Facebook then becomes Politics on Facebook. Keeping aside for once, the many issues about privacy and power-influence the move has aroused, it definitely still is an example of the way social media might help bring politico-legal processes closer to the citizens. A Facebook page for voter registration is in theoretical explanation a remedial move towards transparency of the voting registration process at least. But of course whether having an online voting page on the most popular website will effect useful change or not is a question that will only be answered with time, with due note of statistics and efficacy.
One, however, cannot help but observe that if anything is gained by bringing the election process to Facebook, it will certainly point to renegotiated values of socio-political interaction. Pragmatic benefits being obvious, there are other things that draw critical attention. While of course the private becomes public on Facebook as a medium, by bringing the category of the “voter” online, the political will have become “social” in the “social media” sense of the word. In yet another and possibly opposing view, even if an individual does not like going out to register for the voting process, he/she certainly will have ‘liked’ it and registered! Using Facebook for generating voter interest and activity cannot be claimed to be free from ideational politics. Besides, the use of a social medium that already proliferates (if not generates) false-image-projection, for an appeal to vote, might be slightly dangerous, at least in terms of media theory. One should only hope that such social mediation of electoral politics does not end up, like many other things, being a war between “what is” and “what appears“. There is much that remains to be decoded in the world of cyber-reality and while one is at it, it is best to ascertain that social media does not become all the reality that we could believe in.
Nevertheless, there is the bright side of hope that the tedious processes of legality and politics might be an easy access from home to everyone. For the time being at least, we are watching Facebook doing what it does best- enhance relations. Only, this time it is between what we might understand as the “State” and the ‘‘citizen’’.