Social media, a couple of decades ago, gained frenzy in youth. Initially, it was a source of entertainment but with time, people started using social media as a source of awareness and creating connections. Social media evolved throughout the years and ended up opening various platforms for people to interact i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. With this progress, many celebrities – TV and film stars – started joining these platforms to interact with their fans. However, now we see the surgency virtual influencers on Instagram, with many followers and fanbases.
Virtual influencers on Instagram have connected with people through chats and live streaming. It connects them with their fans or the general public and makes an impact on people, and vice versa. Even though it benefits both – fans and celebrities, it remains a one-sided relationship because it is physically impossible for virtual influencers on Instagram to separately know their thousand or millions of fans. Whereas, for fans, it is easier to know more about the one or two celebrities they follow. There is a term for this concept called “parasocial interaction” used in psychology or media communication.
Parasocial interactions or relationships are marked by one-sided relationships where the effort or emotional investment is done by one person because of the nature of their relationship. This term is specifically used for a fan-celebrity relationship. The relationship in parasocial interaction is not mutual. For example, fans will invest more energy and know more about celebrities than celebrities do, which is an impossible feat for celebrities to engage with every one of their fans.
Parasocial interactions are common with stars, celebrities, social media influencers or virtual influencers on Instagram and other platforms, organizations, etc.
The parasocial theory is a famous phenomenon in communication and media studies. The concept was introduced in 1956 by Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl. The focus, initially, was on Television stars as TV was the only source of medium back then. The idea was that TV or other forms of media allow people to get in contact with stars who were previously unfamiliar or strangers to these people. TV stars or virtual influencers on Instagram used parasocial interactions or relationships for their benefit or promoting their brands by forming contact with the viewers.
Horton and Wohl argue that informal conversations on TV shows or social media is a way of making the viewers be a part of their life. Even though, these stars do not put everything about their life out in the open, the little bits and chunks of information thrown towards viewers/fans is a way to break the wall of alienation. It makes it easy for fans to relate with the famous TV stars and virtual influencers on Instagram.
These online interactions gradually convert into parasocial relationships, giving a sense of security to the people and formation of an emotional bond that can influence their lives in many ways.
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Understandably, the idea of parasocial interaction or relationship may be indigestible or objectionable. The reason behind this doubt is that parasocial relationships are one-sided in nature. It creates an uneven dynamic that can be unhealthy for a person’s psychological health. However, excess of everything is bad insinuates that everything, when done in excess, leads to harmful side effects. Even in real life, people are involved in so many one-sided or toxic relationships that are negatively affecting their mental health.
Parasocial relationships with virtual influencers on Instagram are often free of the burdens of commitments, which provide their fans moments of relief in their lives. The world is full of negativity and stress and if one celebrity’s work can make the fans happier for some time, there is nothing wrong with it. However, the problem arises when fans lose their sense of judgment or morality and normalize the unhealthy behaviors of virtual influencers. Therefore, influencers and social media stars have to navigate their public lives with responsibility and caution. As Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Now enthusiast spiderman fans will take a positive message from this quote and will be more aware of their responsibilities as individuals of a society. This way, it also preaches positivity and morality among the masses.
Similarly, negativity can be learned from real-life relationships as well. In fact, everything around in this world is teaching lessons – good or bad. It depends upon individuals to take the kind of message they want. Nonetheless, it is important to say that public figures hold more responsibility than a common man because of their massive fan following. Initially, parasocial relationships and interactions were seen negatively but later studies and even the orginal idea of Horton and Wohl proposed them to be healthy if parasocial relationships:
- do not substitute real-life relationships and isolate individuals completely
- and do not defy the objective reality of individuals defiance
In hindsight, there can be many benefits of parasocial relationships or interactions.
- They can be informative and spread awareness among the masses
- Individuals can relate to celebrities and their struggles, which can motivate individuals to do better in their lives
- Can compensate for their lost relationships or isolation
- It serves as a source of entertainment during boredom
- Help people in following the latest trends
- Individuals can achieve happiness through this connection
- It can connect fans with eachother where they can relate to one another and can form a community. This is a good socialization opportunity for many people.
Parasocial interactions or relationships are essentially considered negative. However, it is not true. These parasocial interactions can be manifested in various ways, depending upon the fans and individuals’ personalities. To study the kind of effect these parasocial interactions have on individuals, everyone must study the effects of virtual influencers on Instagram or other media platforms on them. What kind of changes dos these do interactions bring in them?