On 9 May 2012 President Obama announced his support for the gay community’s right to wedlock. With imgfave, tumblr, facebook, twitter and other social hubs supporting the right for homosexuals to determine their own ends who could tell this decision could backfire? On a regular day around 10% of the images uploaded on imgfave, for instance, would portray gay marriage as a basic human right that must be accepted. Innovative, moving and witty at the same time: the ‘gay rights’ rhetoric surely made an average internet user appreciate the level of mass mobilization over an issue that concerns few. Yet once the decision was announced a severe backlash was witnessed.
By opening up to the world of internet the Obama administration made itself vulnerable to another kind of trap. The trap of the pseudo-liberal virtual bubble. Whereas much has been said about the internet’s ‘pleasing’ nature, creating small isolated worlds for each user, we need to look into the effect these comfort zones have collectively. Whereas social networks are accepted as unbiased and closer to reality than the media, we fail to realize that every individual’s reality becomes tainted under the protection of his or her own bubble.
The Liberal Watchdog is the first of my observations in this bubble. Whereas a lot of hate speech is witnessed on forums, most of it revolves around hatred towards ‘haters’. Confused? It is projected towards those who refuse to hop on the ‘liberal bandwagon’. If an individual dares to articulate against more freedoms and rights for previously marginalized groups they are shunned, ridiculed, insulted and labeled ‘intolerant’. An example here is the homosexual marriage laws. The most optimistic statistics reveal that 53% Americans support gay marriage. On the social platforms 100% American, if not 99, seemed to even die to win this right for the homosexuals of their country.
Does this mean ‘internet-friendly-masses’ generally comprise of more liberal people? Perhaps not.
The internet user by default has two personalities. Real versus virtual. Whereas the virtual personality is an escape, accepting change, more human rights, social integration, the need to aid the poor, hungry homeless and needy; the ‘real’ face will factor in expediency to these utopian demands.
Obviously social change requires more than good intention and mere babble. With higher stakes involved in the materialization of these global, social and personal transformations, the probability of physically supporting the same causes falls sharply. Here an example is the number of ‘facebook likes’ any given cause can flaunt, and the number of ‘material (financial or physical) donators’ to that cause as a subset of the ‘likes’. I for one have shown my support for almost a hundred causes by a mere click on the like button; donated to none.
The ‘virtual’ human is more open to change. On the internet we can afford to be more ‘liberal’. For instance, speaking of the right to marriage for homosexuals because they too are equal is easy as long as you’re talking about a hypothetical homosexual population. But how many of these liberal individuals would want their children to grow up knowing homosexuality is as much of an option as it is not?
Even though more is being said about alleviating poverty, hunger and developing the underdeveloped, not so much is being done. The virtual person may have a better understanding of our problems on the societal and global level. But this understanding substantially skews reality. The virtual face of an individual is likely to come off as more aware and humane when two cents of empathy are typed onto a blog, a photo is uploaded or a comment is made; but less time, energy, money and effort is being forfeited in comparison.
Less Tolerant: One of the ironies of the liberal standpoint is the sharp intolerance built in Liberalism for any other standpoint. By awarding the ‘Enlightenment’ perspective a higher moral platform in theory and considering it as a huge milestone for human progress the liberal individual assumes a right to frown upon those who are still ‘in the waiting room of history’, critical of social change.
The advocates of social change are like watchdogs on the internet, enjoying a clear majority, they have assumed a bullying attitude towards those who disagree.
Whereas the decision of governments to interact with social media is a vital one in today’s world, we must not mistake popular rhetoric in this medium as true voices of its users. In the Pakistani political milieu PTI seems to be cashing on the free voices readily available over the internet. Not only are similar minded people likely to be frequent internet users (the youngsters who are more open to change than older generations), but also that the social hubs are not a true reflection of the mindset of the individual who will cast a vote in the ballot.
By Zoon Ahmad Khan