Friday, 6 February 2015

When Expressing Opinion lost to "Express Opinion"

The last few days have been a disaster for the news feed of any social media fanatic like me. Delhi elections have been all over the place and once again it became a bit of a mandate to having to take a side. Once again people had choices to make regarding whom their support is going to go for, their almost negligible following and almost zero influence on other's opinions notwithstanding. People started with basic posts that pretended to contain pure facts which people blindly sided with without checking for authenticity of the source. It was later on replaced by a more decadent phenomenon of people making genuine conscious attempts of shaping opinion without really being sure about whether they themselves had one or not. In short, Facebook and Twitter became more a mode of forming Express Opinion on the basis of whatever was available largely online just because an opinion was mandatory, and expression of opinions which could have resulted in plausible debates, took a backseat. And apparently, this was not the first time social networks witnessed this.

If one ponders at the nuances of social networks and their prodigious power to influence, one sees the fallacy. Social networks have become a prime source of information dissemination, but their prime purpose was the sharing of opinions. It is this original trait of social media which creates a rather fragile and vague boundary between what can be construed as information and what has to be seen with the lens with which we view opinions. In fact that boundary has become so thin that there is no distinction anymore. If a famous person was to side with either Kejriwal or Bedi through a Facebook post while mentioning a few favorable characteristics of one of them, it is comprehended not as the sole opinion of that person but as a promulgated piece of information which is quickly commiserated by the supporters of whoever the celebrity supported, and refuted by those who support the other one. All in all, people center their agreement or disagreement towards the opinions which actually take the form of facts. Hence, the essence of a good debate where actual facts are presented in order to support or repudiate arguments and opinions, is all lost. Although it's a different matter that people still consider it to be a prudent debate. 

Now what this phenomenon does is that it spurs up a vogue where genuinely interested people with their own facts and figures in their quivers become a minority, and a larger section of the population now jumps on the discussion bandwagon because of the incessant need of having to express their support in some form or the other. Hence irrespective of whether a post has something as simple as a newly emerged fact or something as complicated as pure history of one of the leaders, people are going to take it upon themselves to bamboozle every such thread with "#5SaalKejriwal" or "#ModiPMBediCM", even if their comment was woefully unrelated to what the post intended to result into. Hence, the comments that really matter almost always get lost in the slugfest of such and other overtly emotional but similar comments, and a naive spectator who may not even have an opinion till now is now forced, compelled and tacitly coerced to quickly form an "Express Opinion" on the basis of what s/he witnesses. And given the limited time one spends on social media and given the lack of awareness of ours the entire process of opinion formation gets bypassed and opinions are made in a haste rather than out of the mental grind. 

Going a level deeper one realizes that the purpose of every post made and read is still to express opinion eventually. However given the convenience of having a readily available platform to express it impels one to form a quick opinion which may have actually be formed in no time at all. So one essentially forms an opinion quickly so that they could respond to the silent social pressure of responding quickly and then they spend all their time on research that shall actually concur with their opinions because we are innately egoistic and our opinions seldom go wrong. Ironically, we end up researching and delving more and more in order to support our originally formed opinions to convince ourselves of our righteousness, than what we would have done if we researched before forming an opinion at the first place. Moreover, any research we do after forming an opinion is done under the context of our preference instead of being unbiased and that is absolutely deleterious for the germination of a wholesome viewpoint. In fact any fact would have been properly processed if we were blank in the beginning but with our opinions, we have selective retention and selective acceptance. We tend to take note of only favorable things and deny anything odious and out of line. Well, may god bless us! 

While the number of voters canvassed on social media is minimal, influences spark cascade chains and result in massive conversions. It already is pretty late but one must exercise some restrain and take a moment to think before just jumping in to comment on any post on Facebook. One must be pretty astute and vigil to see how accurate a piece of information is and one must indulge in discussions only if the information deems so. Otherwise, it's ones prerogative to keep their hankering at bay and to clearly identify any such post as being farcical and bogus so that damage could be controlled. You may not know how important it is, but every vote makes a difference. Stay wise and please vote!