Social media is a blessing and curse. It is wonderfully positive in how it has brought people together so that ordinary people are able to have a platform and be heard even if they are not famous or a public personality. However, it is also equally and incredibly concerning how this closeness we all feel has enabled potentially harmful consequences like the development of parasocial relationships.
Parasocial relationships may be defined as a social interaction where one party knows a lot about the other, but the other party doesn’t know anything about them. Often these relationships are one-sided.
This topic of parasocial relationships has been discussed quite often in the recent past, especially following the pandemic, where the limiting of social interactions during lockdown led to a rise of parasocial relationships with Twitch streamers, TikTok stars and Instagram influencers. There have even been studies conducted that relate the growing rate of these types of relationships to depression and anxiety among younger people.
Even in Sri Lanka, with the growing ecosystem of influencers and even traditional celebrities becoming influencers through interacting with their audience via social media, there has been a rise in the blurring of lines between the influencer – who is often a content creator – and their audience members.
As casual observers, we’ve seen for ourselves the comments that these content creators receive on their platforms and the questions that their viewers ask. Often, incurably intrusive and personal information is requested directly.
Even on occasions where the creator does not connect their personal lives to the content they present online, they still receive comments asking them to reveal their romantic relationships, their income, their family members, etc.
Brunch reached out to a number of influencers for their thoughts and personal experiences with overzealous ‘fans’ and whether they feel their audience may be entitled to some sharing of personal information and if so, where one draws the line when it comes to the relationship between the influencer and their viewer.
You have to draw the line
Fashion and lifestyle content creator Lithmi Gunawardana shared her thoughts on the importance of maintaining boundaries as a content creator.
“Being a content creator means that it’s important to be transparent. But at the same time, having boundaries is key. There’s always going to be an audience that doesn’t know where to draw the line – just because you decide to put some parts of your life out there they think they’re entitled to know whatever they want of you.
“However, the good thing is that you have control over what you put out there; you can’t control other people or their expectations, but you have complete control over what you want to respond to and put out there. Personally, I’ve accepted the fact that people will cross the line and pry if you let them – I just need to show them where the line is.”
Lithmi’s thoughts were widely echoed by the majority of the influencers we reached out to, with many noting the importance of drawing the line yourself.
Minoli, aka mino.bee on TikTok also shared that while boundaries were incredibly important, it was up to each individual content creator to decide what to share and what not to share.
Noting that it was up to personal preference, she said: “In this day and age, I think it is a personal preference, but I believe that it is absolutely necessary to have certain boundaries if you have a social media presence as a creator.
“Not only does this ensure privacy but it also maintains personal safety, which is of utmost importance especially as you come across a multitude of different personalities on social media. For example, it’s very common for those joining live streams or commenting on posts to ask very per
on safety has also been a concern raised by many when it comes to sharing personal information with strangers on the internet. Being a prominent creator online potentially puts you at greater risk due to the sheer number of observers with their eyes on you, waiting for a snippet of information that allows them to reach you in ways you may not want them to.
Sense of entitlement
“I think many people fail to draw a line between what is and what isn’t presented to them by personalities online and why some things are kept under wraps. More often than not, ‘fans’ or ‘followers’ develop a sense of entitlement and over time tend to feel like they’re owed a more in-depth look into their chosen ‘celeb’s’ life. They also eventually start to feel like they are allowed to have a say in how this ‘celeb’ lives their life,” said Ursula Bastianz, a popular creator on multiple platforms who has had to endure an onslaught of personal questions directed her way.
Expanding on the concept of ‘consent’ and how it was deeply misconstrued in these parasocial relationships, she said: “The content we put on display is what we as individuals have consented to share. Some are comfortable sharing more than others, but the fact remains that it is what you consent to share.
“It comes to a point where many people fail to understand consent in general – many people fail to comprehend boundaries. More often than not, people don’t believe that celebrities deserve the luxury of privacy because they automatically assume that if you share a part of your life, you might as well share all of it.”
Ursula added: “The bottom line is that people, in general, don’t respect the privacy of others, which is really sad when you think about it. Versions of this entitlement, this lack of respect for the privacy of others makes ‘clickbait’ news go viral and makes celebrity sex tapes/revenge porn popular, because the thought is that ‘if they’re dumb enough to film it, then we are allowed to see it’.”
When to draw the line
Thilina Perera, who maintains a social media presence almost solely revolving around his leather crafts, shared that even he received personal questions that were completely unrelated to the content he put out, although the focus of his content was entirely on his craftsmanship.
He noted that there were times when he reacted emotionally over some of these questions because he had deliberately chosen to share one very specific part of his life without giving any indication that he wished to reveal anything further. So how could some people have the audacity to cross that line, he wondered.
“I have gone to great lengths to maintain a certain image. I am someone who shares my craft through my platform and I am enthusiastic about sharing it with my audience. I am grateful to those who have given me a platform and appreciate the views, but I have drawn a clear line and I will continue to maintain that boundary,” he said.
Similarly, Thanuja Jayawardena, a content creator with a large online platform stated that lines had to be drawn quickly. “I have made the mistake of sharing too much and have suffered the consequences of it,” she shared.
“I have learned from this and now I am careful in what I share, especially when it comes to my home and my family. They do not wish to be broadcasted, so I must respect their wishes. Therefore, I do not show their faces or too much of my home, allowing them their privacy as they have not consented to be on a platform as I have,” she said.
She however noted that when it came to holding your audience accountable, you must consider the way that you yourself had handled them in the past. “If you have shared a lot of your personal life and that is how you marketed yourself and built your platform or if you profited from revealing your relationships and personal details, then personally I think that you cannot blame your audience for demanding those details,” she said.
Thanuja also noted that the creator had the choice in creating content. If they chose to reveal certain details for their benefit and then became irked by the questions once their audience was invested, it was unfair to reprimand their audience for expecting more of the same.
There is a certain level of justification to the entitlement that audiences feel when they have been told by the creator that they are in fact owed this information, Thanuja observed.
“It is understandable if audiences feel that we owe them something because their views and interaction is what has given us our platforms. However, the difference is the type of content that they have interacted with. If the audience watched and loved comedy content, then they cannot expect something different or feel indignant when they are denied these extra details about their favoured creators’ lives,” she stated.