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  • Writer's pictureAnilesh Kumar

Are You A Third Person?

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

(Image courtesy: Bollyworm)

To find out whether you are a ‘Third Person’ yourself or under the effect of a ‘Third Person’, let us quickly go through these two stories.

Story 1_ The War Wakening

In 1950, a historian at Princeton University found some documents related to World War II. He found a few intriguing leaflets that were distributed by the Japanese on an island in the Pacific where an American troop consisting of white and black soldiers was stationed. The message on the leaflet was directed to the black soldiers suggesting them to leave the battle ground and not risk their lives for white people. Because of the leaflet, the unit on the island was withdrawn.

The man showed the leaflet to a young sociologist working there and asked him what he made of it. In an uncertain way, the sociologist said that the withdrawal of the troops might have been a consequence of remorse i.e. white soldiers were aware of the treatment to their black counterparts and may have withdrawn troops as a result of feeling guilty.

A few years later this sociologist was involved in an election campaign for the candidate he supported. Having received a campaign leaflet of the opposition through his door, he immediately started to work on a counter message. Eventually he found out that neither his nor his opponents’ leaflets had any impact on the voters.

This experience left the sociologist thinking about the haste in which he took the action assuming the other people may be influenced by the leaflets. Combined with other experiences, he proposed a hypothesis called ‘The Third Person Effect’ as people reacted imagining the action taken by the third person. This sociologist was none other than Phillips Davison. In simple words, Davison argued that people overestimate the influence of mass media. They act in anticipation of reaction from others.

Story 2_ The Sushant Saga

In 2020, a promising young Bollywood actor named Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his apartment. According to the news reports, his body was found hanging from the ceiling fan. The actor hailed from a small town and was able to strike a chord with the millions of people who aspire to make big not only in the film industry but life, in general. Bereaved fans of the late actor boosted by claims of a section of Bollywood - which blamed the heavyweights of the tinsel town of cornering Sushant - flooded social media demanding justice. As expected, the media joined the justice bandwagon, and started screeching round the clock, looking for villains and new characters. The search for characters then turned into an ugly episode of character assassination of random individuals.

The mission to find if there was something questionable in the actor’s death became a marathon of finding anything to quench the thirst of media itself. With constant claims of conspiracy on screen, news channels were successful in creating a narrative that suited them. While the country’s premiere investigating agency was probing the reality, media houses were planning theories. Personal battles, political battles, ideological battles, and illogical battles – everything was happening on social media simultaneously.

People who knew nothing about the case (because either the actor would know or the agencies) started abusing those with dissenting views. A huge clash broke out on social media and each camp resorted to the lowest common denominators. Those who wanted to know the truth but had no means, started targeting the views of others in anticipation that the opposition might win the battle and vice versa.

Time For Truth

Now, ask yourself. Did you communicate on this matter without giving a careful consideration to various aspects of the case? Did you tweet/post in rush almost behaving like frenzy customers rushing to shops thinking others would buy everything before them? In this case media has been the shop pushing you to buy their story before the other team wins and justice derails. Right? Did you react against the fans of other film starts thinking their fans were trying to ‘save’ them? If your answer is yes, then I am afraid you are under the influence of what is called The Third Person Effect.

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