Imagine you are headed home after a stressful day at work. Two people seem to be arguing over something on the street. They hurl abuses at each other and start to fight.
Earlier in the day you were told by the management that they are firing employees because your founder is a coke-head who has spent all the venture capitalist funding on making the office look like the inside of a genie's bottle (also: foosball tables).
You may get fired next week so when you witness two morons fighting on the street, you stay out of it as it is none of your business. One of them comes over to you and asks for help. You have read news reports and seen CCTV footage that show innocent bystanders getting hurt when they attempt to stop fights. Because you want your son to continue having a father, you walk away in the hope of leaving behind this mess.
That's when a person appears out of nowhere and tells you that you have failed the "social experiment" they were conducting. His camera crew and the fighters from before scold you for being a terrible person who won't stop to help those in need.
By the time you reach home, millions of people have seen you acting like a selfish prick on YouTube. Your wife files for divorce because she doesn't want to be married to a coward who won't help people.
Your son's classmates write "mera baap kamzor hai" on his forehead.
The start-up you work at fires you because they don't want a negative role model in their company (also: you are terrible at foosball). Your life has fallen apart because you didn't intervene in a fight. As you try to sleep on the footpath, you ask yourself: what exactly is a social experiment?
In academic terms, a social experiment is a research project conducted with human subjects in the real world.
It typically investigates the effects of a policy intervention by randomly assigning individuals, families, businesses, classrooms or other units to different treatments or to a controlled condition that represents the status quo. Famous social experiments like the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment helped us understand social psychology and the behaviour of people under various circumstances.
In the year 2016, unfortunately, the term social experiment has become synonymous with idiots putting people in vulnerable situations and then filming their reaction (kind of like your psychotic ex who told you that she was pregnant just to check your loyalty).
|RJ Naved's experiment is a failure from the very start.|
If the subjects take the bait and have an angry reaction then he is quickly told that it's just a social experiment: ("You are an awesome human being bro, you passed!"), if they have no reaction then they are labelled emotionally dead and socially irresponsible ("You should be ashamed. Chullu bhar paani mein doob maro!"). Either way, the video's producers make money from the millions of views that it racks up.
One of the more popular videos doing the rounds currently is RJ Naved's "Patriotic Murga", an Independence Day special prank where he fishes for reactions by pretending to be a Muslim extremist around Muslim people and a Hindu extremist around Hindus. The intention was probably to capture people in their "natural environment" and see whether they support or rebuke the extremist.
The whole thing is shot in broad daylight around several people so subjects can hardly be expected to be their true self. Racism isn't discussed on streets, it takes place in bars and locker rooms and dinner parties. One has to look over the shoulder and see if the coast is clear.
This is why it is easily perceptible that the video is scripted. The subjects in the video are a little too eloquent and deliver sanctimonious monologues that appear to be rehearsed.
Not a single person agrees with the extremist which, of course, makes RJ Naved aka Captain Obvious deliver his obvious sermon at the end of the video about how no one wants to fight and we should stay united and not allow people to take advantage of us etc, etc. This speech is supposed to make us feel warm and fuzzy in that place where our hearts are supposed to be.
We Indians are constantly getting lectures on how to behave. From Aamir Khan, from the hosts of Savdhaan India and Crime Patrol, from our prime minister, from pseudo-intellectual, "anti-national" columnists like yours truly.
It seems there is no end to the unsolicited advice one can get. It used to be that you could film someone getting fooled and call it a "prank". Then everyone decided that pranks are too childish so now we have pranks with a social message at the end.
What makes RJ Naved's experiment a failure from the very start is that viewers already know the result of the experiment before they press play. There is no way that someone is going to lay bare the communal divide in the country on Independence Day because it would destroy our idea of a united India. If the video showed people agreeing with the extremist then the producers would face the wrath of the entire nation. He would be sued by religious lobbies and disciplined by Arnab Goswami. Hence, we are given a schmaltzy substitute that you can share on your WhatsApp groups and Facebook newsfeed.
Why is it that despite having camera phones and social media for the last ten years, it is only now that we are seeing people using these tools to throw light on the human condition via social experiments? Perhaps the answer lies in the increasing monetisation of YouTube where uploaders can make a share of the ad revenue based on their video's views. The going rate is between Rs 300-500 per 1,000 views so a million views results in lakhs of rupees for your social experimenter.
Since there is money in the equation, it becomes difficult to trust the validity of the experiment. The producers are not aiming to present an accurate depiction of society; their sole aim is to get as many views as possible. This is why you have clickbait titles like "YOU WON'T BELIEVE THE WAY THIS BEGGAR SINGS" or "HINDU ABUSES MUSLIM AND WATCH WHAT HAPPENS".
In America, you can even hire actors for your viral video. Of course, India too has its share of actors who will star in anything that pays the bills. These stooges will play any role in your video depending on the message you want to communicate. You click in the hope of coming across something remarkable but end up with Sonu Nigam or RJ Naved impart a motivational sermon on values and community and something and something and blah and blah.
People will continue to make social experiment videos as long as people keep clicking. Just like Salman Khan will continue making terrible movies as long as people will keep buying tickets to watch his descent into madness. Many websites post social experiment videos regularly for the same reasons that YouTubers make them: these videos get a lot of traffic.
It doesn't matter whether the video is a heart-warming act of goodness that restores your faith in mankind or something that displays the worst of humanity and makes you want to buy a gun; as long as you click, comment and share, it's a success. Whenever something is free, you are the product. Every video you watch is making someone rich so think about that for a second before you share it like a STD.
Not to be technical but these "social experiments" cannot be seen as genuine because there is no consent, no compensation for participants, no peer review before publication, no statistical analysis of data, no normalising for intervening variables and a small sample population. These are social media experiments and prove only one hypothesis: curiosity killed the cat.