Whenever we talk about the internet, it’s always in a flattering manner. From bringing people around the world “closer” to providing accessibility to countless resources, the internet has complemented the developments of the 21st century. While it has delivered on these fronts, we seem to ignore and sweep the issues that have arisen due to it under the rug.
According to a 2019 Bloomberg report, Gen Z made up for 32% of the global population. Of India’s 1.3 billion population, 27% is between the age of 10-24 years. Almost 60 crore people are below the age of 25, which is half of the country’s population.
Gen Z has been exposed to the internet from a young age. Using the internet mainly for social media, this particular generation is well-versed with the intricacies of the web. But using the internet comes with its own sets of issues.
While it has opened up spaces and ideas for young people to explore, given them a more diverse outlook, provided them with resources and given them a voice, it is also important to note that not all of the content consumed is “good”.
The most common effect it has is on the mental health of young people. It paints unrealistic standards for young minds and portrays a false body image.
But there’s another side to this as well. Often, parents use the internet as an excuse to blame certain mental health issues that may have instead arisen due to external factors. This makes it difficult to help children and young people appropriately.
For example, the latest fad of PUBG/BGMI is used as a reason for young India’s deteriorating mental health. External factors in life are disregarded and the game is used as a scapegoat.
The internet has opened up multiple POVs for people to explore. It has made young India more aware of social, political and historical issues. For example, young India was out on the streets during the CAA protests and they have been vocal in their support for the protesting farmers.
But the multiple POVs come with their own set of issues. So what do we believe in? There are countless resources, narratives on issues that India faces. There are countless content creators we have access to on social media sites who might not always be the best sources of information.
We’ve all, at one point or another during this lockdown, come across misinformation regarding COVID-19. For example, during the COVID-19 lockdown, by the end of March 2020, the number of fake stories increased from 15 in the week beginning 16 March to 33 in the week beginning 30 March, with the Tablighi Jamaat event at Nizamuddin Markaz.
With the rise of a certain IT Cell in India, using social media as a tool to spread hateful propaganda has become common. And with more young people having complete access to the internet at home due to the lockdown, it wouldn’t be uncommon for them to come across Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, WhatsApp groups, etc., that spread hateful rhetoric.
This accessibility has also resulted in many other issues, such as harassment. From school and college teachers being recorded harassing students to COVID volunteers being sent explicit images, the online world has seen many inappropriate instances.
We often tend to make fun of baby boomers for sharing unverified and false information. Our “WhatsApp uncle” jibe seems a bit odd when most of Gen Z gets its news online. While this generation is less likely to fall for fake news, the number of people that are part of this group is much higher and a lot are susceptible to false information.
Being tech-savvy does not necessarily mean that we understand nuanced socio-political topics. For example, a Stanford History Education Group Survey of middle schoolers in America found that over 30% thought a fake news post was more trustworthy than a verified one.
We have young people on the internet fighting each other using hashtags and hate speech. This division has led to increased instances of violence in the country based on social, political and religious issues.
We might be the generation born into technology, but we certainly aren’t immune to its ill effects.