Is Social Media Inherently A Selfish Medium?

For a generation obsessed with “selfies”, self-imagery, self-consciousness, and self-relevance; the above statement seems to be a correct manifestation of the trend in society but not a completely true hypothesis of the character of social media.

To begin with, social media could be proclaimed to be the biggest game-changing outcome of the ‘Internet Age’. From a humble beginning of Myspace to Orkut and then to the industry giant of Facebook; it gradually developed into other forms like Twitter, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Weibo, Instagram etc. In the core of any such platform, the idea remains simple; to develop an individual’s relationships and networks into an entity which could be exploited. Yes, exploitation was always in the core of ideology behind social media’s core structure. Each platform exploits this intrinsic character of human nature, to make a profitable venture out of human relationships.

In the process, instead of being a connecting medium, and a platform to project one’s opinion; it has transformed into the biggest showroom in the world. And we human beings have become its greatest asset by engaging with these platforms and, at times, allowing our own exploitation. We have helped to make these platforms some of the richest companies in the world. The currency here is individual information, and preferences which we collectively call as big data. “The more they share; the more profitable we become” was a tagline used by one of the CEOs of the biggest social media firms.

Wasn’t Social Media Meant To Be A Medium Of Empowerment?

Internet, in the beginning, was always seen as a product of the “counterculture”. movement. It was supposed to be a free and unbiased medium where the unheard and the unknown could raise their voices and become a relevant part of the community. It was also intended to give positive constructive inputs. It was supposed to be a medium of empowerment. A medium of engagement of the everyday people, who were sidelined by the 1% making decisions in their names; disregarding their voices as that of a crowd. Social media was supposed to be the tool of that “subaltern class” who could not have a medium to project their views. People could have divergent views. Dissenting views. Alternating views. But people had decency, civility and morality while engaging in a conversation.

Gradually, as more and more people became associated with it, somewhere the golden rule of civilisation, in the form of morality, was lost, and people started to develop “Self Centric Narcissistic Behaviour”. Instead of being rational and educated with their opinions, they started believing in a self-righteous glorification. Where their limited knowledge was the only supreme knowledge. Their views became myopic and self-centric. People were unwilling to engage in a meaningful debate and agree to take opposing views as constructive criticism. This led to a culture of slandering, abusing, trolling, and shaming, as weapons of social media annihilation. People became devoid of emotions and compassion.

In the era of “Post-truth”, whatever they knew or got to know, became the truth. The element of selfishness and self-centred culture is the chief component of “post-truth” ideology. People manifest theories, ideas, beliefs; create a sense of legitimacy through social media and project it onto others as the only possible variation of truth with no element of dialectics. This culture is being celebrated around the world, to the extent so much that we can take the case of American President Donald Trump. He is the greatest example of this ideology; where self-image and projection on social media became so important and significant, that he actually used it as a tool, to become the President of the most powerful nation in the world.

The self-centric ideology is a bane. The growing cases of mental depression, suicides which are broadcasted live on social media is the most negative outcome of that. People have transformed their proactiveness into proactiveness of “camera”. Mobs instead of engaging in situations to defuse it, take videos and pictures of a grim situation, so that they could simply broadcast it on social media. Everyone has become a tool of significance. The more I share, the more people follow me, the more ‘relevant’ I become. Sensationalisation is glorification. The yardsticks of social recognition have transformed gravely with the rise of this culture. Celebrities engage big public relation firms to take care of their social media profiles so that they are not left behind in this new rat race. This shows the raging gravity of this situation that how selfish and self-conscious people have become.

Showing off has become a positive attribute amongst society. The amount of wealth I own, the luxuries I possess, the richness I can project, makes me feel accomplished – is the new motto of the millennials. Instagram is the biggest proponent of this culture. Showing off, flaunting off, making the other feel less fortunate is seen as a positive attribute. Teenagers flaunt their wealth, flushing money on materialistic things that should provide minimum gratification at this tender age. They think what they are doing is the right thing to do. Even acts of benevolence and charity have become a ”photo opportunity” for this generation. Everyone wants to look “humane” but has lost “humanity” in the process.

People would be willing to share a picture of a dead Syrian kid floating on the seashore or of war atrocities over Rohingyas or any minority. Because this seems to be relevant to them, happening to them. But the same people would turn conservative and self-centric when they have to consider the possibility of accepting these refugees into their countries; at which moment it becomes an issue of “My rights vs. Your rights”.

But Isn’t There Anything Positive About Social Media?

Humanism goes out of the window when it becomes an issue of possible threat to their self-interests. But these selfish characteristics of social media could also be channelised towards positivism. Initiatives like “Selfie with Daughter”, “Swatch Bharat” have transformed this negative trait of human nature into positivity. People are engaging now to make a difference by projecting a positive view through social media. Individualism here is transformed into communitarianism, where each individual input helps to bring a positive transformation in the society. People want to share that they are doing good.

But, subconsciously, they are also transforming their mindsets. And this is where social media has triumphed again as the greatest engineering marvel of the 21st century. It is under this process of “social engineering” where technology is used to transform the lives of people. Without the presence of social media like Twitter; Arab Spring would have been a complete failure. Twitter helped people to share ideas, bring out their grievances, mobilised support for the people of Egypt and Tunisia. Each activist used social media as a weapon which no regime could quash. It became a tool of “Free Speech”. It has brought transnational individuals together fighting for a cause, crossing geographical boundaries.

Also, social media has transformed the delivery of Government services. Each citizen has now got a voice, with which they bring up their grievances directly to the authority, making them act swiftly as, in an irony, people are watching the authority on how they react. Accountability has been enhanced exponentially by this character of social media. So, it has ironically transformed the self-centric character from a “bane” to a ”boon”.

In true words, it could be simply summarized as:

“An opportunity can have both positive and negative outcomes, it depends solely on how the individual plays it.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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