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Are you indulging in daily life virality?

MEHENAZ SULTANA TISHA | April 03, 2024 00:00:00

Every day, you wake up to look at your screen, and there is a new drama on Facebook. Some dramas even last for two or three days. Whether it is simply another memetic catchphrase resurfacing from an old TV show or a staged spectacle of cricketers and promoter brands to amplify their reach in a controversial way - every scroll collectively broadcasts a different episode each day.

Either way, we sit with popcorn to enjoy the newest spectacle and perhaps even comment about it. So, what is it about viral content that draws us in like moths to a flame?

Perhaps it is the thrill of being part of something larger than ourselves, the sense of belonging that comes from participating in the latest talk of the town - the dopamine rush of validation and recognition that comes with every like, share, and comment.

"People are drawn to stories that evoke strong emotions and give them an adrenaline rush," Lamia Islam, a graduate student of Psychology at Dhaka University, shares her thoughts. "When people see others engaging with a particular piece of content, they're more likely to jump on the bandwagon without questioning its validity or consequences."

Human beings have an innate tendency to seek patterns, make assumptions, and draw conclusions based on limited information. This cognitive bias often makes us jump to conclusions without considering all available evidence.

When faced with uncertainty or ambiguity, our brains instinctively fill in the gaps with assumptions and conjectures and seek to make sense of the world around us. However, in the digital age, where information is abundant, this same impulse can lead to rushed judgments and faulty conclusions.

"With the click of a button, we can instantly broadcast our thoughts, opinions, and reactions to a global audience," Lamia adds. "So we rarely pause to consider the consequences of our minuscule action."

She also comments on how, in the echo chambers of social media, where like-minded individuals express and reinforce each other's beliefs, these hasty judgments and reactions become amplified and validated. At one point, false information is collectively received as the truth, like a fun match of Chinese Whisper.

Whether it's the misinterpretation of a news story, the propagation of a false rumour, or the dissemination of a doctored video, the consequences of unchecked virality are devastating. It undermines trust in the media and perpetuates harmful stereotypes and narratives.

For example, the spread of false rumours about a supposed impending famine. Within minutes, these rumours can spread like wildfire on social media. It can lead to widespread panic and chaos as people rush to prepare for a non-existent threat, consequently leading to a shortage of necessities and an increase in prices.

Similarly, the spread of false information about a marginalised community can lead to discrimination, violence, and even loss of life. In the age of social media, where information travels at the speed of light, the impact of viral misinformation can be swift and destructive.

One of the most notorious viral misinformation was the Blue Whale Challenge. It was a viral hoax that purportedly encouraged participants to engage in a series of dangerous tasks over 50 days, culminating in the participants taking their own lives.

"We must keep in mind that the harmful effects of viral misinformation are not merely theoretical," comments Amio Afroz, Senior Teacher of Computer Science at Hurdco International School. "Rather, they have real-world consequences for individuals and communities."

She also supports Lamia's insights about echo chambers, "When people see information that goes with their existing perspectives, they are more likely to accept it uncritically and share it with others, regardless of its authenticity. As a result, viral trends that confirm our already existing beliefs or feed some specific ideologies are more likely to gain attention and spread rapidly, even if they are based on false or misleading information."

This virality often begins with a single post, video, or image that captures the attention and imagination of a few individuals. As these individuals share the content with their networks, it begins to snowball, spreading from friend to friend, group to group, and platform to platform.

Even when fact-checkers and experts debunk misinformation, it can be difficult to undo the damage done by the initial spread of false information. Once a viral trend has gained momentum, it can be incredibly resilient and stay in the public consciousness long after it has been debunked.

We need to educate ourselves on the root of this problem to shield ourselves from the influence of mindless mob psychology. Unless we understand the reason, we will rarely find the motivation even to fight this phenomenon.

"We need to gradually train ourselves to think that the fear of missing out on a trend is a false feeling that occupies our mindfulness and disrupts our sense of judgment," Amio shares her own experience of schooling herself.

"The momentary validation we get by expressing our unchecked thoughts can possibly destroy someone's peace of mind."

Every scroll brings a new adventure, experience, and opportunity. Hence, the fear of missing out has become a tea-pal in our digital lives.

"When we see a post, we instantly compare our situation or ethical values with that and try to comment simply to stay in touch. But we have to be aware that keeping in touch with every trend isn't necessary. It's okay to miss on a few trends."

As this fear of missing out stems from the innate human desires for connection, validation, and inclusion, we must pay extra attention not to get carried away with our instincts.

Ultimately, it is up to us to uphold these values and strive for a digital world where truth prevails over fiction, curiosity conquers purposeful ignorance, and integrity triumphs over sensationalism. After all, staying quiet is far better than being a part of unintended harassment.

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