There may be a great antidote to what, these days, is termed the “menace of social media”.
Make it paid. Make social media — the new pandemic that is upping mental health issues around the world even as we resolutely decide we cannot have enough of it — paid.
Imagine having to pay Dh1 each time you ‘pinged’ an inane query, or forwarded news whose credibility is dodgy but you are relaying it like a baton because, hey, it’s free. Or having to cough up an equal amount to post an opinion or a picture or a video that no one really cares about, but everyone “likes” because it’s fun and easy, they only have to press a button, and then later claim, “Oh, I’m in touch with so-and-so, she went for a staycation to Fujairah last weekend, she had so much fun”, forgetting to (conveniently) add that they know only because the photos/videos were visible on Facebook or Instagram.
There is a reason why they say “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. Simply because, for all good things in life, there has to be accountability and a semblance of give and take. Riding high on free platforms sets off various forms of casualties as the indiscipline of uncontrolled freedom sets in like rigor mortis. Anything goes.
The other day, I was telling a friend about this peculiar case I had to contend with sometime ago: a former classmate of mine used to change his display picture on Facebook at least twice a day, and he would then send WhatsApp messages to his FB friends (the ones who were on WA with him) urging them to ‘Like’ the new photo (in fact, when the ‘heart’ emoji was incorporated into the pantheon of reactions, he would say, “It would be nice if you could heart it, but even a Like would do”). Once, when after repeated requests (it was a particularly virulent spate), I refused to ‘Like’ a photo, he unfriended me. There was peace thereafter, but a little part of me was a little offended: are “friends” only meant to add to your virtual popularity’s bottom line?
Soon after, another athletic FB friend (each time she does yoga, which is five times a day, she puts out a photo gallery) wrote on her homepage she’s unfriending all those who do not ‘Like’ her posts — or comment on them — regularly (on reflex, I immediately ‘Liked’ her post). She called it “detox time”, getting rid of ‘toxic’ people in her life, who don’t have time or inclination to give her fungible pats.
Now, imagine what would have happened if all social media postings had been paid manoeuvres, I told my friend. None of this nonsense would have been happening: would the athletic one, for instance, be okay with coughing up moolah each time she tried a new asana on the yoga mat? And then pay for another post that declared she’s downsizing her friends’ list? Would the pinging-on-WhatsApp-to-beg-for-Likes man be okay pinging away to the sound of pennies falling from his pocket?
Not just that. Influencers would be genuine. It’s like this: if I believe in a cause — say, I believe in the cause of animal shelters — I’m most probably going to put money where my mouth is, otherwise, I’ll be a hypocrite. But I will ensure that since I’m articulating an opinion or a thought that’s expensive, it better be well-thought-out, not any random kneejerk reaction.
My friend who was listening to me patiently while I ranted went on to tell me something awfully interesting: “I’m given earfuls by friends/family/colleagues since I’m never ‘seen’ on social media these days.” By that, he explained, what they mean is that “I’m not liking or commenting on their stuff.”
“Oh yes,” I muttered. “If you’d been friends with the athletic yogi, she would have unfriended you by now.”
“I never usually Like anything,” he continued, “unless I’m personally touched or moved by something a person wrote. So, my rule of thumb is, I ask myself: Would I be okay paying a dollar [yes, he hiked up the stake from dirham to dollar!] to ‘Like’ something or respond to a forward because it’s worth it? If the answer is yes, I go ahead and give it a Like or send a thumbs up. In my mind, I am already monetising my reactions. Believe me, I’m so much more sorted since I started doing this.”
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