Are Polarisation and Daily Outrage in Twitter outcomes of identity vacuum in an anarchist digital world?

Identity is perceived as an important aspect of human life. But is it that important? Can humans live without identity, without something to identify themselves with? What if we remove the important identities that people associate themselves with and place them in a setting without any centralised authority? Do new identities emerge? What's the nature of such identities? Are they static or dynamic?

Before pursuing this thought experiment, it's useful to discuss "who gives an identity" and "role of identity in a society".

Various debates around source of identity creation revolve around three aspects - self, society, and government. While Foucault argued that societies create identities, so that they can discipline people by forcing them to adhere to the norms associated with the identity, others like Deborah Stone have explored the role of government in creating and perpetuating identities through census. In fact, the seeds of Hindu-Muslim rivalry are said to be sown when British conducted a census. It brought the poor state of Muslims into light, which increased Muslim's self-consciousness.

Regarding the role of identity, some argue that identities are important for several reasons and shouldn't be removed.  For instance, a national identity acts as a glue keeping people together. The careless restructuring of national boundaries in Africa, without regards for the ethnic identities, is said to be the reason for ethnic clashes in some places.

Emphasising the importance of certain identities, some argue that certain identities act as bulwarks against authoritarianism. Hannah Arendt famously argued that the vacuum created by decaying social structures was occupied by Fascism in Nazi Germany. Similarly, The Rudolphs argued that caste identity prevented the rise of authoritarianism in India.  It means that if there were no caste identities, the need for an identity would have given rise to authoritarianism that gives an identity to people by rallying them around a theme, like Fascists. Ambedkar touched on similar aspects when he argued that in a Marxist stateless utopia, state will be replaced by religion.

Returning to our question, what happens if we bring people together, by stripping them off their identities, and without any central authority - the challenge in pursuing this thought experiment till now was that "bringing people together" always meant to be "physically bringing people together". Hence, the primary concern of security dominated the discourse making identity aspects secondary. The famous one being Hobbes, who called such "state of nature" (stateless society) as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short", highlighting the lawless nature in such thought experiment, emphasising the security aspect.

Twitter provides us a setting that helps us pursue our thought experiment without the challenges of security associated with "physically bringing people together without an authority". It's because Twitter brings people together for all practical purposes by easing peer-peer communication; it has no centralised authority to either discipline or to give oneself an identity; it provides equal access to everyone for anyone. The question now is - what will happen in such situations?

My hypothesis is that people create dynamic and static identities for themselves in such setting. Dynamic identities are created by manufacturing outrage and by strongly associating oneself with particular sides in this outrage. Long term static self identities are created by strongly associating themselves strongly with an idea or theme. The "daily outrage" and "extreme polarisation" of Twitter is a possible outcome of such setting. Let me explain in detail.

1. Daily Outrage: When people are brought together, stripping them off their real life identities, without any central authority, it creates a vacuum of identity. Who are you when you make an account on Twitter? Your profession doesn't matter, your wealth doesn't matter, your real life details don't matter. There's no centralised authority that labels you as BPL/APL, nor are you compulsorily labelled as belonging to particular caste or belief.

This identity vacuum is filled up by creating a phenomenon, where an outrage is manufactured and people can take sides, giving them a temporary identity.  To put it in other words, vacuum created by imperfect penetration of real world identities into virtual world is filled by the dynamic identities, associated with daily outrage waves. The highly networked setting of Twitter facilitates this.

After all, may be Hannah Arendt is correct. Such identity vacuum creates avenues to mobilise people around vile aspects of human nature. We may be just be witnessing this amplification.

2. Extreme Polarisation: When there's no society and government to give you an identity, the only person who can give you an identity is yourself. In such cases, one tries to create identity for themselves by associating themselves strongly with a particular idea or theme, making it part of their identity. The need to be associated with such ideas or themes creates polarisation because identity formation through association works in binary eroding the grey areas.

The combination of extreme polarisation and daily outrage is what makes today's Twitter. The same is not prevalent to this extent in Facebook despite the prevalence of "creating self identity" because Facebook restricts access to unknown people dampening the intensity of outrage wave, thereby restricting the utility of identity creation through outrage.

By all means, I don't mean to say that real world identities have no influence on Twitter nor do I mean that this is the only explanation of daily outrage and polarisation phenomena on Twitter nor do I mean that there's no neutral sane person on Twitter. The point here is to highlight the norm, not the exception.

The next question is - how do we test this hypothesis? Any ideas?

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