4 Ramadan 1441
I have a love-hate relationship with social media.
It mostly began with hate, and now we are in a relationship exhibiting signs of Stockholm Syndrome.
Those of you who have known me for a long time know I was deeply suspicious of social media for years—moreso than many of my peers. I took the first step to join Facebook only after I decided it’s probably better that I add my high school friends instead of telling my neighbor in Chicago to add them, which must have been really confusing for my high school friends.
And it was after a couple years in to my Ph.D. program—and touring Hijabi Monologues in Ireland, Holland, and Indonesia—when my friend and collaborator said, Sahar, tis time to get on Twitter and Instagram. You know, so you share about the cool things you’re doing. Or post pictures of food.
Moreover, old Facebook friends know that I regularly take extended Facebook fasts — with the last fast extending over six months.
(Shout out to those of you on Twitter and Instagram who knew I was still alive.
And at some point.
On an island.
If you were to ask my younger digital native siblings about my disposition toward social media, I’m pretty sure they’d tell you I’m annoying.
Pre-pandemic times, I must have asked them a thousand questions about the repercussions of posting this or that thing, whether I should post this or that photo, if this or that tweet will hurt my chances of getting a job in the future—as if a tweet about institutionalized racism would result in me not getting a job.
I make myself laugh.
When the younger Ullahs started ignoring my questions, I realized that was their loving way of cutting the umbilical cord and saying, You are a grown woman. You must make your own choices.
The thing is, I still am deeply suspicious of the ever growing possibilities of surveillance and the comfort by which we not only allow for it to happen but have become active participants. And although black and brown bodies have been under surveillance for a very long time, we know they were/are sites of testing, not the end goal.
But in pandemic times, I have thrown critical inhibitions to the wind. The surveillance is now constant, with all our devices processing input 24/7, tailoring our social media experience, and with our coworkers, colleagues, employers, employees, teachers, students, friends, and acquaintances in our home, perhaps in our bedroom, all the time.
And I figure, even if I am NOT on social media, it’s SUPER easy for someone to steal my identity, put up a profile picture of a famous porn star who claims to be “Sahar Ullah” but looks nothing like me, and post questionable content from an unverified source about how to inject Lysol or bleach into your blood stream to kill a virus.
(The porn star profile picture, indeed, happened to a friend who decided in pandemic times he would venture back on Twitter to find he had been replaced. I advised he change his password, keep the photo.)
So in the meantime, I will continue to share content to advance your social media literacy. I hope that my efforts strengthen your ability to differentiate between content posted by ME from, say, content shared by an impostor who has successfully catfished dozens of South Asian and Arab men or the Pakistani Sahar Ullah who now lives in Canada with his motorcycle.
And I guess I’ll just leave you with that.