He’s likely not exaggerating—many popular Facebook pages traffic in content similar to the kind that is posted on r/indianpeoplefacebook. The major difference, however, is that most of these pages cater to a South Asian audience that speaks at least English and at least one Indian language, expanding the linguistic ambit of the screenshotted content. Reddit, meanwhile, has mostly a Western audience (though it’s not possible to say what percentage of subscribers to r/indianpeoplefacebook specifically are South Asian).
Impact of social media
Facebook pages such as Humans of Jharsa, which has around 80,000 followers, and ShitIndiansSay, which has almost a million, seem to have almost entirely South Asian followings. Both pages, like r/indianpeoplefacebook, often share pictures of social media posts by South Asians that are deemed ripe for mockery.
They generally post r/indianpeoplefacebook-style screenshots alongside other types of off-color in-jokes—what has recently been termed “dank memes”, used so often that they become a staple or even a cliché. The memes on such pages—and to a larger degree, those on some private groups on social media—often play on highly inflammatory topics, such as religion, caste, and sexual violence, according to a recent Vice article.
But while many “dank meme” pages and groups have come under criticism or been banned for posting sexual or politically controversial content, the “cringe” humor based on screenshots of people’s social media seems to have, for the most part, escaped public scrutiny or censure.
Was there any caution taken?
More caution seems warranted. Forums in which social-media screenshots are shared without the original poster’s knowledge or permission can subject the original poster to many risks, including “doxxing” (the non-consensual sharing of one’s personal details), cyberbullying and harassment.
The first rule of r/indianpeoplefacebook states that all social-media screenshots in which the poster has not redacted the subject’s personal information—things like full names, locations and Twitter handles—will be deleted. This does not, however, specify that people’s faces must be blurred out or masked in any way; doing so is not common practice on the subreddit at all. These precautions then do nothing to prevent those who already know the subjects of the posts in real life from recognizing that they are being mocked online.
The dark side of such memes became clear in India last year, soon after the story of a young man named “Sanjay Kapoor” went viral. An Instagram account under that name posted photographs of a young man (“Sanjay”) and an older man (“Durgesh”), along with commentary that told an outrageous story about how Durgesh had repeatedly catfished—or tricked into a relationship—Sanjay.
The story, it soon came to light, was completely false, fabricated by someone who knew the men and sought to hurt them. The older man in the photos, it turns out, was the younger man’s disabled father. According to New York Magazine, the younger man fell into “deep despair” at the revelation that his father’s photo had been used in such away.
#PlaneBae and a worrying trend
Internet “fame” can be a bitter pill even when measures are taken to protect a subject’s anonymity. This July, a woman named Rosey Blair live-tweeted a long thread in which she relayed a story about people sitting near her in a plane—a man and a woman who had just met and who, in her view, had an instant connection worthy of a juicy romantic comedy.
Blair posted photos of the pair, but none that showed their faces; she did not post their names. The thread went viral, and the man from the plane—a professional football player—cheekily outed himself as “#PlaneBae” online. The woman did not speak publicly at all, but internet commenters managed to find her anyway, and, according to a statement she released through a lawyer, she has since been “doxxed, shamed, insulted and harassed,” and chose to deactivate her social media accounts in the wake of it.
For now, though, such cautionary tales do not seem to have dampened the internet’s enthusiasm for social media screenshots.