Scripted videos have gained momentum in India, becoming popular on social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube. These videos are shared under the guise of real-life events. In 2022, scripted videos gained significant popularity among YouTube viewers in India, according to YouTube's official blog post.
The context and messaging within these videos are manipulated, often communal and misogynist in nature.
So, why exactly are scripted videos so popular? What is social media's role in them? What should the government do?
Decode spoke to Nirali Bhatia who is a Counseling Psychologist, certified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist & Internet Addiction Therapist, specialising in “Cyber Psychology” to understand.
Bhatia is a TEDx Speaker and also the founder of an anti-cyberbullying organisation – Cyber B.A.A.P (Cyber Bullying Awareness, Action and Prevention).
Here are edited excerpts:
Why are scripted videos so popular among Indian viewers?
In my opinion, we are progressing in the cyber world, and as a result, attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter. This is one of the underlying reasons why we have moved on from longer YouTube videos to very short Reels. Scripted videos have a specific context and are gaining more and more popularity.
These short videos convey one message within a short span of time, whether it is positive or negative, and provide a shared perspective. They serve the purpose of entertainment while also allowing creators to convey their narratives and messages to a larger audience. There is a perspective that is being shared through it. So, people don’t need to apply their brains and it is serving the purpose of the creators to pump their narrative and pass messages to the viewers.
Through the utilization of scripting, these videos are able to incorporate specific angles and a well-defined direction, resulting in an enhanced and impactful viewing experience.
Over the past few years, we have witnessed a surge in hateful and violent content on social media platforms, which seems to exacerbate existing prejudices and biases towards specific communities- gender and religion. What do you think is the underlying purpose behind creating such content? Considering this trend, how do you believe such content will influence viewers' perspectives?
In recent years, we have witnessed a growing religious divide permeating various aspects of our lives. This divisive trend has particularly gained momentum in the online sphere, where a significant number of young individuals knowingly or unknowingly circulate religious content without fully understanding its implications.
The objective for many creators is simply to gain more virality, often without comprehending the potential consequences of what they are spreading. To illustrate this, consider this simple analogy: if we hear about a specific area experiencing frequent robberies, our thoughts naturally become fixated on that location, seeking to validate the circulating information.
Similarly, this religious divide has permeated our nation, shaping the overall environment and prevailing sentiment. When individuals encounter highly divisive content, their immediate reaction is to seek validation for pre-existing beliefs. Consequently, our thought processes, values, beliefs, opinions, and judgments are becoming increasingly extreme. Regrettably, the nature of social media provides a platform for individuals to act as judge and jury, swiftly presuming guilt and demanding innocence to be proven.
This unfortunate shift has resulted in people losing trust and the ability to give others the benefit of the doubt. We tend to hastily jump to conclusions, resorting to either blocking individuals or engaging in online trolling. This sensitivity and intolerance have made us extremely reactive to opinions that differ from our own.
This is a pivotal moment where acceptance and respect for each other's religions should prevail. However, we observe an alarming trend toward intolerance, as our perspectives are being shaped or even radicalized into extreme judgments.
This mirrors what occurred in the United States during the aftermath of 9/11, where individuals with certain surnames like Khan or those with beards were unjustly regarded with suspicion based on nationality.
We must recognise that we are heading down a similar path, where a divide has already taken root in our collective mindset. While it may not entail labeling everyone as terrorists, the effects are evident as people start noticing others along similar lines, further exacerbating the divide.
To what extent do you believe social media have influenced people's ideologies?
Social media plays a significant role in shaping ideologies and mindsets as there is a lack of filtering, monitoring, and governing of content. This unrestricted environment allows anyone to post anything, leading to several consequences.
On social media, there are two types of individuals. The first group seeks popularity and is willing to publish any content without considering the potential negative impacts. Empathy is absent, and the sole motivation is to gain more followers, hits, and reach. This pursuit of popularity has desensitized us and dehumanized people.
In the race for popularity, attention, and monetary gains, individuals often overlook the sensitivity and ethical aspects of their content. Social media platforms thrive by allowing people to create and share content. This is how YouTubers and content creators earn their living. For them, everything becomes content. This represents one type of audience that social media has fostered.
The second type of audience consists of individuals with vested interests, strong prejudices, or firm opinions. Social media platforms, in the name of freedom of speech, provide an outlet for expressing opinions without taking responsibility. There is a lack of monitoring or regulation to ensure accountability for the content being shared.
When we observe a top-down culture, such as the creation of doctored images using AI to mock the struggles of protestors, it sets a harmful example. If the government permits such content and activities, it sets a precedence or false belief of unaccountability among the people involve in content producing.
These types of content are often used for personal agendas and to further divide society. When influential figures in the government or those with a significant social media following participate in such content, they manipulate a larger audience. People interpret their involvement as an endorsement, which increases the likelihood of others consuming similar content.
Currently, it is a double-edged sword. When a video receives a high number of views, viewers may perceive it as true, simply based on its popularity. This perception influences their thinking and motivates them to share it further.
Ideally, social media platforms bear a great responsibility to handle such content with utmost care and responsibility. They often invoke community guidelines, which are not tailored to specific countries. Unless there is a governing body to regulate these platforms, the damage will continue to deepen.
What role does the emotional connection portrayed in these scripted videos play in capturing the viewers' attention?
It plays a crucial role in the alarming trend of radicalization, leading people to abandon critical thinking and become subservient to others' ideologies. The online realm, a psychological space rather than a physical one, triggers a range of emotions. This is especially true for social media, which is designed to evoke these emotions and captivate users. The question arises: why do people devote so much time to this digital domain?
Engaging with social media offers a unique experience that can detach one's mind from their physical body. Unlike traditional sources of influence, such as movies, social media is driven by ordinary individuals who have now become actors in their own right? This fundamental shift enables a deeper emotional connection and greater relatability, making it significantly impactful.
Moreover, social media's multimedia nature—comprising visuals, voice, and motion—holds a powerful allure that keeps users engrossed. It paints vivid scenarios before our eyes, fostering a stronger connection and understanding.
However, the screen-mediated interaction and the disinhibition effect it brings, strip away our ability to recognize danger. In real life, the sight of bloodshed or conflict triggers fear signals in our brains. Yet, when observing such events through a screen, from the comfort of our homes, the danger or sensitivity cues are absent. The content becomes mere entertainment, resulting in a desensitization of the masses.
This paradigm shift in media consumption demands a critical examination of the impact it has on society, as individuals increasingly detach from reality and succumb to the allure of the virtual world.
Are there any ethical considerations to be taken into account when creating and consuming scripted videos with communal angles?
There should undoubtedly be accountability for those who possess the power to influence others, as they bear the responsibility to ensure their impact is positive. Regrettably, the absence of oversight means that the content being circulated often sidesteps ethical considerations.
In the realm of online content creation, the veil of anonymity provided by the internet fosters an environment devoid of governance. Consequently, moral obligations, ethics, and responsibility are disregarded.
It brings to mind the wise words of Spider-Man's uncle, who said that with great freedom comes great responsibility. Sadly, the social media platforms that have granted such freedom have failed to ensure this responsibility.
Considering India's significant market for internet consumption, what role and responsibilities do you believe the government should undertake?
Unfortunately, the necessary action is not being taken. This divide is evident because it reflects our prevailing sentiment. Just as in the US, you will find content that aligns with their current sentiments. However, there is a distinction to be made. The legal policies and frameworks in place there are far more well-defined. Today, subsidiary social media companies cannot simply dismiss content by claiming it fails to meet community guidelines. They would face immediate lawsuits and government pressure. In our country, such measures are sorely lacking.
In a landmark ruling in the UK last year, a social media company was found guilty of contributing to the suicide of a young girl, aged 13 or 14. Her Instagram account and Pin Press contained over 100 videos on how to commit suicide. If she searched for such content even once, the algorithm would generate more ideas, desensitising her to the pain. Tragically, the girl eventually took her own life. The judgment argued that the algorithm should have functioned in the opposite manner if genuine concern for youth was truly prioritised.
Ideally, the algorithm should have flagged her search, promptly providing help videos, counseling options, and facilitating communication with parents. Unfortunately, such safeguards are nonexistent in India.