FAISAL BIN ESSA WRITES — Turning her misfortune into fortune is what Rawan Bin Hussain does. The 22 year-old social media influencer, popular in the Middle East, recently caught pop media attention by catching her boyfriend cheating on video.
When Hussain posted the incriminating videos on several of her social media platforms, her audience of 2.9 million on Instagram jumped to a whopping 3.3 million, in a matter of weeks.
This is not an isolated case. A study conducted by neuroscience researchers at Harvard University in 2012–which is still incredibly accurate– concluded that displaying our intimate lives for people to see activates the reward system in our brains by boosting our neurochemical functions; and the more personal the revelation, the stronger the chemical rush for the individual.
These uncontrollable responses seem to be deeply ingrained, just as similar impulses motivate animals to continue hunting for food, the The Atlantic says: Checking “email inboxes and slot machines simply tap into attention-focusing mechanisms,” which are essential in making sure we don’t lose interest in staying alive.
The chemical rush can also lead to a chemical crash. Facebook has been criticized for inducing depression, and social media in general has been linked to mental health issues. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and expert in technology and human relationships, tells the New York Times, “People pay a psychological price for seeing information about former friends and colleagues. It’s not good for our emotional health,” adding “it makes people feel bad because they know they shouldn’t look at this stuff — but they can’t help it!” With platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, oversharing has become a trans-cultural phenomenon.
What’s interesting to note is that social influencer Hussain is from Kuwait, where existing culture and traditions condemn women from publicizing their relationships. Socially speaking, a woman’s stature is defined by an orthodox set of guidelines promoting chastity, purity, and tradition. For example, even today, if a man in Kuwait is interested in a woman, he must first ask her father for her hand in marriage. By contrast, Hussain gained fame by violating such norms. This wouldn’t have been possible without access to these multifaceted sharing platforms.
Even with rationalizations and criticism on both ends of the social media aisle, it seems as if online exhibitionism is here to stay–despite where you come from and what’s expected of you. Will social media hustlers like Hussain continue to reap the benefits of their publicized personal lives? Perhaps the larger question is how the behavior of cyber citizens will unfold as we become more immersed in our virtual worlds.