Who remembers the time when the only way we could make friends was to be invited to someone’s table in the cafeteria during recess, the walk both exhilarating and excruciating as you fixed your skirt and approached a group of strangers? Or how about those long telephone calls with a high school crush that seemed almost like sending out tiny sound ripples into a vacuumed ocean? In both cases, we become self-conscious as we tell ourselves, “This is it, this is real, this is my chance to show them who I am.”
Like a blog post or a tweet, part of the allure of sharing our daily lives online for everyone to see is in our acquired ability to craft our own identities, free from the ticks, the nervous glances, the stutters. What we send out to the world through social media is also the cinder blocks that make up our virtual identity. The photos we share, the topics we discuss, the music we listen to — these become a curated timeline of how we want the world to see us, like the over-rehearsed cafeteria scene of our lives.
It’s queer to think that people who hardly know us begin to see or form different perceptions of us based on these online personalities. At the same time, we find out more and more that it becomes inevitable that our virtual and actual lives intersect, forming this complicated amalgamation of interactions, stories, and moments that end up defining who we are. That’s a terrifying prospect—handling not just one life, but two? There is so much freedom and so much creativity involved in creating ourselves, that when it falters, who then can we blame but ourselves? Chalk it up to social media to provide us with a wall of detachment, even anonymity.
The force of a few thousand retweets
It’s no question that social media has become a powerful device in connecting us with one another. In America, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was created from outrage over unjust police black killings, becoming a tool to protest these unjust practices. Bijan Stephen, in an article written for Wired last November, posits, “Social media could serve as a source of live, raw information. It could summon people to the streets and coordinate their movements in real time. And it could swiftly push back against spurious media narratives with the force of a few thousand retweets.”
Everyone remembers Gaby Valenciano’s long post last September on his fight with depression, and his long lament over the death of artistry in the TV industry here in the country. He wrote, “The only thing you hear out of the country nowadays are traffic, corrupt politicians, unprofessionalism, and show business. Is this really the legacy we want the young people of the world to see? Is this what it’s come down to?” It garnered up to 48,000 likes and 16,000 shares.
Who could forget the video of Bob Kotan, an American immigrant who was found roaming the streets of Manila in 2014, allegedly left by his Filipina wife? A Facebook post of him crying for his wife, showing his sooted face and tattered clothes, went up to 100,000 shares.
The vast machine
It is in social media as well that we allow the world to see us as a country. It could range from immediate issues such as our mad outpourings over the plight of Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia, to our raves and swoons in the developments of the all-affecting, heart-melting AlDub craze, to commentaries on the state of politics. We’ve been hailed as the Social Media Capital of the World by a global study conducted by UM London, and we’ve come to acknowledge the weight of that crown.
We’ve built not only a vast social machine, but also a chain of action-reaction that stretches out as far as the eye can see. Take, for example, the infamous interview of Alma Moreno. Her cringe-inducing answers to the questions asked by Karen Davila set Filipino netizens ablaze, with posts ranging from harsh criticisms to funny memes.
The reaction does not stop there, however. Netizens even went as far as making a parody account of the senatorial candidate—the embarrassment of one person was stamped onto timelines in social media, the moment relived over and over until her memorable lines became household lingo.
Because of the sheer number of people connected on these platforms, social media becomes the perfect medium for controversies to spread and stick. The coronation mishap on last year’s Miss Universe has proven that stories on social media don’t just spread—they blow up, with netizens introducing different angles and involving more people. Not only are Steve Harvey, Miss Colombia, and Miss Philippines the only people in this story; there’s Miss Germany, Miss Bulgaria, Miss Australia, and many more. Social media makes issues more dramatic; in this vast machine, sensationalizing, by way of parody, anger, or even sentimentality, plays a standard role in its persistent churning.
Think before you click
What goes on through someone’s head just before they hit that post button? What goes on through yours? More or less, we all do it for the same reason: To be heard. But when some people tend to overshare or post tactlessly, the murky waters of social media appear. Hate and disapproval are expressed effortlessly as judgement becomes all too common of a thing.
It’s important to note, though, that some intentions are meant for a more meaningful impact, like that of Humans of New York (HONY), a Facebook page that posts photos of people accompanied by quotes of them telling their personal stories. Its seeming candidness has gathered a huge following from around the world, creating a community that is always willing to extend a hand, from helping a struggling artist to raising funds for charity.
In that sense, social media is very much a paradox. It makes it easier to reveal yourself to the world, but also to disguise yourself from it. There is strength in the collective power of the people responding to issues, but a vulnerability in that it can just as easily be manipulated and controlled.
Admittedly, to live without social media now means to isolate yourself from another world. Our culture is shaped by both the virtual and the actual. There’s probably a void that Vine videos and countless selfies fill, but if the HONY page is any indication, we’re craving for more sincere content and less of what serves as an agenda for mere self-serving satisfaction and bashing. After all, the way we develop connections is through meaningful interactions. By committing ourselves to creating a virtual environment that seeks more of that, maybe social media will be a better place for all.