Time to curb the social experiment

Friday, 20 June 2014 - 6:20am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

I've spent the past week trying to make up my mind about "social experiment" videos on the Internet. Like the name suggests, these videos are a means of capturing how bystanders react to an inflammatory situation being acted out on purpose. For example, a group of actors stage a scene in a public space where they pass sexually explicit remarks against one of their members in order to see if people ignore it or step in to resolve the situation. The same situation is recreated to highlight sexism, racism and in one extreme case that I saw recently, two actors in a van screaming and shouting loudly to simulate rape. The end product is meant to show how apathetic individuals are but usually ends on a hopeful note about how some people are "heroic" and conscious of their responsibilities.

While the social experiment has beaten to death on television, it has seen resurgence with the rise of click bait journalism on social media. With more and more websites following the often mocked "This crazy thing happened and you wouldn't believe the even crazier thing that happened next!" model, content creators have realized social experiment videos are the easiest way to get lakhs of hits and get featured on these websites. All it needs is a powerful social hook such as simulating xenophobia; racism or a rape case and you have guaranteed eyeballs. Therein lies the rub.

Does the purpose or significance of a social experiment video diminish if it exists in an ecosystem of hundreds of other videos of a similar nature, especially when they are all saying the same thing? Part of me feels that I have enough examples in the newspaper everyday telling me about human apathy but the flipside is that watching someone act and take a stand might end up inspiring someone who sees that kind of video if the situation ever happens in front of them. In that case, is it fair to even question the integrity of content creators with regards to a video being staged or the intention just being to get millions of Youtube hits?

I believe that social experiment videos are governed by the law of diminishing returns. With so many videos being made to raise awareness about specific issues you are already seeing a clutter both in terms of format and impact. Eventually, despite every websites content needs these videos will lose their impact and might even end up lowering the discourse around sensitive issues as opposed to enriching them. Unfortunately in the quest for greater hits creators seem to be losing sight of the bigger picture and that's a loss for everyone.

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