The Cultural Implications of US Exported Social Media

The Independent
Over the last few weeks, there have been issues spread across the globe due to various aspects of social media. We talked about how the Putin parody accounts were removed on Twitter, but worse than this was the fact that some Iranian women have been taken to court over pictures they posted on Instagram in Western clothes without head scarves. A little further around the globe, an Indian comedian is in trouble for sharing a video he made of two celebrities arguing by using the face-swap feature on Snapchat. Though Tanmay Baht has not gotten in any legal trouble, he's still getting threats over his content.

You'd have never imagined that fashion photography on Instagram could be an issue. It might sound very innocent, but that is through a westernised point of view. In Iran, women must be seen wearing their headscarves due to the fact it's a Muslim country. Some people might not see that as fair but it is still one of the laws you have to follow. Only eight women have been arrested but over 170 women have been found and are being watched online. It's a shame that these women are in so much trouble, to the point where one woman who was popular on the site fled to Dubai and another who dyed her hair blonde, something you wouldn't even see under her headscarf, had to apologise in court. The saddest thing about this is that these women felt they had to share western fashion on Instagram to gain a following. If there were more women highlighting the fashions that can be worn with a hijab or a rousari then these women might not have shared the pictures that have gotten them in trouble. Yes, some Iranian women do want to wear western clothing and to them Instagram is a great way to share it, but it wasn't the best way for them to do so.

What happened in India is completely different as technically, Baht was in the clear. He can't get in any legal trouble over this, but many people are upset. It has reached the point where a member of the most popular political party has threatened to beat the comedian up. Morphing people's faces is a grey area in India and this could lead to a lot more trouble for Snapchat over there. If you're just swapping with friends and family then that shouldn't be a problem, but Baht was seen as disrespecting these celebrities. In western countries, some people might be annoyed by what he did but it wouldn't be taken as badly by everyone. It would just be seen as a little fun, but  even celebrity has a massive cultural divide between us and India.

These are only a few examples of what could happen. Social media is great for connecting the world, but these big services have all been created in the US. What they can and can't do is, therefore, dictated by US laws. Facebook have been tackling similar problems by releasing different versions of their services in Europe, but the only app that can really do that is Snapchat. In India they could only allow users to face-swap with people they're standing with, but that could be unfair to other users. There's nothing Twitter or Instagram can do really to make this less of a problem in those countries. Globally users can share anything, it's just a cultural divide that causes the issues. Not all users can share in the same way and this is what causes problems because users want to be able to emulate users from a different culture than their own. Social media services need to take into account the different cultures before they try to import them across the world.

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