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How Social Media Has The Potential To Turn You Into A Fanatic

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Have you ever realised that the news and articles and content you see on your social media and news suggestions feed a particular belief you hold or agree with? I have recently noticed that I see almost little to no articles or content pieces that challenge my beliefs and I do not like it. I did get enraged at the fact that I’m being manipulated by a social media giant, but then I realized I literally have no control over any of my activities online and I would be angry forever.

There’s no second-guessing why this happens – social media algorithms are at work studying every move we make on the platforms, harnessing data of all kind, right from keeping track of what ads you click on, your login timings, locations you logged in from, stickers you send, what apps you use – the list is long.

Heck, Facebook admitted last year to even tracking mouse movements on a screen to differentiate between bots and humans, along with other information about the device being used to help deliver personalised content. Oh, and they can access your webcam and mic. At this stage, our right to data privacy is as real as India being a Hindu state – it’s a myth. Meanwhile, our data is being distributed like mithai during a festival.

Filter Bubbles

All these reams of data and their harvesting are not in vain, though. They use it to deliver “personalised” content right to your virtual doorstep, i.e. your feed. This activity, known as “algorithmic editing” has the potential to turn you into a closed-minded extremist with zero tolerance for opposing views.

These “filter bubbles” (I love this term – thank you, Eli Pariser) are “intellectual bubbles” which the algorithm can put you in by showing you content which you are most likely to consume and engage with, based on a number of factors such as search history, past click records, etc. This leads to you being isolated from anything that may oppose your point of view, putting you in an ideological bubble, while feeding and nurturing your beliefs.

Filter Bubbles. (Photo via spreadprivacy)

For example, I don’t ever remember seeing any articles that support Trump on my Instagram explore page or Facebook feed, because by now “it” knows I don’t care for the man’s politics, or whatever you want to call what he is up to.

At the same time, I see a lot of posts about the brutal annihilation of forests in India and extreme violation of human rights that takes place in India. I rarely see posts about an actually helpful government scheme that was implemented successfully over the last 5 years. It took me a while to believe it, but there are quite a few.

Here’s why this is a problem (if you haven’t figured it out already). There is a term in psychology known as “confirmation bias,” a cognitive bias that makes us inclined to seek out and favor information that affirms our beliefs and ideologies and hypotheses. It happens a lot, with all of us, in everyday life. People are biased towards their own beliefs, and even ambiguous events or situations and interpreted to fit into and confirm this bias.

No matter what you believe, you will find daily evidence to support your theories to make them stronger. At the same time, any opposition to your views will be labeled as a “special case” or an “exception” and dismissed.

Photo via medium.


The story of what happens on social media is not very different. The content on our feeds mirrors our thoughts and convictions, and we lap it up, all the while being convinced our point of view is the right or worse, the only right one. This turns our digital source of information into an echo chamber, leaving little to no room for our thoughts and opinions to be challenged by alternative ones, known as “disconfirming evidence.”

This leads to polarisation due to two or more groups of people circling around within their own bias circles, with no intention or effort to seek information from the other circle.

Photo via medium.

(Technology such as social media) “lets you go off with like-minded people, so you’re not mixing and sharing and understanding other points of view… It’s super important. It’s turned out to be more of a problem than I, or many others, would have expected.”
— Bill Gates in Quartz, 2017

This is dangerous. Do you know what this means? This means that racists find racists, nationalists find nationalists,  sexists find sexists and casteists find casteists and their beliefs get stronger, with very little in the content they consume to dispute their beliefs. Even though such beliefs may be formed offline, they are fostered online. Phenomena like collective cyber-racism are on the rise, and there is also a school of thought which proposes that social media has led to a rise in hate crime.

What happens if we don’t recognise this and work on it? Long story short, you become a fanatic, or worse, an extremist.

Fake News

This hyper-personalisation of content, paired up with the father of all fallacies, the confirmation bias, leads people to believe absolutely anything that fits into their thought molds, even fake news.

The problem with fake news in India is so pervasive that WhatsApp is being optimised to counter fake news, Facebook is working on a feature that will alert users about fake news and the politicians do… well whatever they do, like spend millions of rupees to spread fake news to win elections.

Most people, especially while scrolling through a news feed, process information fast, the fastest way possible for them. We use shortcuts to do so, without which we wouldn’t be able to get through a single day without losing it, considering the amount of information that is thrown our way each minute.

Some of these shortcuts are biases like the confirmation bias, and using them can lead to “blind spots,” where we can’t rationally and accurately perceive or process information. We don’t even bother to verify the information and buy into it without questioning it. We are less likely to believe information that doesn’t agree with our viewpoints. What even, brain?

Fake News and nationalism. (Photo: statista)

Threat To Democracy

Some rightfully argue that a mixture of algorithmic editing and confirmation bias is a threat to any democracy. They say that it removes alternative and diverse viewpoints, making people unable to make fully informed political decisions.  Although it is also up to the user to block out content they don’t want to see, the narrowing down of content that algorithms offer is a major culprit. Then again, we believe all the lies that politicians tell us to our face, they don’t even need social media for that, so…

What’s The Solution?

There is, however, a way to combat this bias. We’re not all lost causes, not yet. The key is to find disconfirming evidence or opposing beliefs to ours and actually learning more about them. It is very possible that some of our perspectives are not exactly rational. Once the awareness comes, there is a way to do something about it, and do something we must, whether it is our personal biases or political ones.

India currently runs on this fuel of hatred, casteism, communalism, and polarisation. Don’t let social media and your biases make you believe this is okay. Don’t let it convince you that this is all that is happening, either – yes, it works both ways.

Confirmation bias on social media and otherwise also affects your mental health and can lead to negativity, anxiety, and depression, so curate your social media in a way that gives you a realistic world view, not a one-sided one.

Bias begets bias and the circle is never-ending, it has to be broken out of and soon. We don’t need any more fanatics, especially not judges who think peacocks reproduce through tears. I wonder what his social media feed looks like.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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