By Annie Fraser:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr accounts can be created by anyone, from anywhere, at any time, and their profiles have unlimited opportunities for growth and expansion. Social media consumers can post unlimited amount of photos and statuses that can be shared on a global network within a matter of seconds.
Social media’s boundless nature is truly fascinating. But social media’s most redeeming quality is that it provides anyone with the opportunity to voice himself/herself and be heard. To date, no form of mass communication has empowered the individual quite like social media. Magazines, newspapers, radio, and television have been successful for representing the masses and presenting alternative narratives, but no space was ever created for individuals to express themselves and share ideas of great importance to them.
It would seem, then, that social media would be the true voice of the people, our platform to change things and ultimately create impact by using our online profiles to present new ideas and perspectives. With social media, we have the power!
If we think about successful social activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi who use their freedom of speech to mobilize communities in order to create social change, we come to realize that our voice is our strongest power. But what happens if our voice is taken? What dangers do we face?
Recently, Canadian writer Petra Collins uploaded a photo of her unshaved bikini line to Instagram to express her own opinion about beauty and to challenge socially constructed ideas of femininity, an action which resulted in her account being forcefully deleted by the site despite the fact that the photo she uploaded followed Instagram’s terms and conditions (i.e. no nudity, violence, hateful, or unlawful images). In fact, the photo she uploaded was no more revealing than the other tagged #bikini photos on Instagram. Her photo did, however, depict a blatant point of view, expressing a concept of beauty that is different from the prized attribute of hairless skin that resides within the socially prescribed barriers of femininity.
Petra’s story disproves the notion of social media empowering the individual. Instead, her story demonstrates the alarming power of social media to oppress the individual.
By deleting her account, Instagram robbed Petra of her voice and her potential to influence society. If social media can so easily exclude differing perspectives from the discussions that we, as social media users, begin online, then social media also has the ability to mold their users’ mindsets however they choose. Through the close monitoring and editing of the content that users freely post and share on sites, social media is controlling the information that reaches us, and therefore, the way that we think.
In Petra’s case, the photo she uploaded to Instagram presented an opinion that vastly contradicted what society knew and thought about feminine beauty. In a society where physical appearance is becoming more and more valued, and where people are becoming imprisoned by standards of beauty (especially women), Petra’s voice, manifested through her Instagram photo, could have been an opportunity for us to think differently and unlock the socially imposed regulations that we are chained to. Yet, since Instagram silenced Petra’s voice, its users will never come to learn or understand her point of view.
Social media is your voice and social media is my voice. But what is the purpose of having a voice knowing that it can be permanently interrupted at any time? If we do not have the freedom to express our thoughts on matters of importance, then how can we expect to not only be able to protect ourselves against social conformity, but also to progress ourselves towards a greater good?