Emerging power of social media: Prospects and problems

With the emergence of fast internet connectivity, social media has got a renewed vigour and has revolutionised the concept of media. As of now, the global village is proverbially just a one click away. It is not only the source of information as news channels, multinational organisations, and institutions have maintained their dedicated social media channels for continuous interaction with masses in addition to connecting individuals, but also a source of earning and publicity.
Nonetheless, the vested interests are equally at the forefront to advance their malicious agendas as was observed in the case of militant ISIS terrorists that use social media as a tool for recruitments and to spread their brutal ferocity using all mediums of social media. In this backdrop, it is necessary that the governments and the social media outlets collectively adopt more aggressive approach in order to counter the pernicious effects of social media such as fake news, propaganda, allegations, etc. and promote it as a healthy platform for interaction, information, and source of earning through the content moderation.
Amidst the busy schedules in our lives, social media has revolutionised the medium of communication as a source of connectivity. We are flooded with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, etc. providing free, easy and interactive access to our loved ones and the things that matter us the most. It is even difficult, if not impossible, to think about life without social media. One can hardly escape these tools in one’s routine as we do check the latest updates on social media before going to bed and soon after we are awake.
Additionally, the busy schedule in this highly competitive era has reduced the physical interaction, on the other side the only recourse we are left with is to be in touch through the social media. It is not less than a blessing as at least we stay connected with our acquaintances. Lockdown due to COVID-19 has furthered our reliance on social media as an interactive tool. Thus, the social media has become an inevitable part of our life.
From the information perspective, it provides a variety of resources. The news organisations have maintained their dedicated social media accounts where we can access related news and the latest developments. Additionally, almost all the multinational companies have their presence on the social media platforms where they update regarding their activities for the audience. It is almost like a one-window operation of getting knowledge and information.
In this high-tech era, we are confronted with constant censorship on the part of the state authorities, however social media is immune from it subject to compliance of the code of conduct. Throughout the world, governments check any content that they consider as against the interests of the respective state. Fortunately, social media domain lies beyond the control of states and it is free from censorship.
Diversity of views and a culture of debate in social media helps broadening our vision. If debates are logical, well-informed, and solution-oriented, one may get different opinions on a given topic that will provide a variety of options that are central to arrive at a meaningful conclusion. For instance, if a person pitches a topic or one’s views, the comments will be providing critical analysis of the situation and will help one to be an effective decision-maker having positive outcome in the long-run. Above all, that output would lead to a plan of action that would be an unbiased, based on solid foundations and result-oriented.
Moreover, social media plays an indispensable part for the promotion of democratic ideals. Amongst them free expression and inclusivity are noteworthy. One can freely express one’s thoughts supporting or rejecting any movement, cause, or laws as a person deems necessary. Also at times when these very ideals are being threatened by the non-democratic forces, citizens do not hesitate to make their ultimate sacrifices for the protection of these very democratic ideals.
On July 15, 2016, the Turkish military attempted to grab power in a bid to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On that very date, when the president was outside of capital Ankara, few military officials attempted to overthrow the government. Nevertheless, no sooner president Erdogan appealed the citizens to come out into the streets to save democracy while he was in Istanbul. Within no time, Turkish people proved to be unsurpassable barrier against the coup-makers.
These armless brave-souls sandwiched the anarchists, who had loaded weapons. Albeit the Turkish nation paid a price with the lives, but they succeed to roll back the coup d’état and wrote a history of saving democracy. It all became possible because of the social media. It was president Erdogan’s appeal through the live-stream social media message that spurred the nation and they came up to the president’s expectations.
On the other hand, social media tools at our disposal have become a source of accountability and transparency. During the July 2018 elections, whenever a candidate visited the constituents canvassing votes after almost long-five years, the residents of the area recorded videos holding politicians accountable regarding their performance and contribution for the constituency in the previous stint as a parliamentarian, and reasons for absence during the interim period. Thereafter, these videos were shared on social media platforms in effect such acts encouraged other people to ask similar questions from the candidates of their areas. Later on, mainstream media highlighted these issues adding a new layer of accountability and transparency.
Now it has become a routine to expose corruption and maladministration with the help of social media. In Karachi, a traffic police officer got fame whenever he stopped the powerful persons for violation of traffic laws and thereby whenever he was misbehaved, he used to record videos and share them on Facebook. It added into his credibility as an upright officer and exposed those who are flouting the law.
Moreover, when Salahuddin Ayubi broke ATM machine and mocked CCTV, he was arrested by Rahimyar Khan police. Due to police torture, he passed away, nonetheless it was social media that exposed the brutal police torture meted out to him. It created a storm in the country for reforms in the police department. Hence, social media has rendered almost all of us as digital or social media journalists.
Arab Spring and the Aurat March got a renewed vigour with the help of social media. Mohmed Bouazizi, when he was harassed by the local administration, set himself on fire in Tunis. That gory incident was spread on social media like a wildfire. The enraged Tunisians came out and compelled the tyrant regime of then President Ben Ali to abdicate power. Furthermore, this struggle of Tunisians turned into a transcontinental movement encouraged and supported by the social media activists who organised similar movements in their respective countries.
In a likewise manner, the organisers and the supporters of the Aurat March belonging to different areas, professions, and genders interacted to each other through the social media and agreed upon to organise the March. On the International Women’s Day, across the country, they announce such gatherings where they join each other to highlight the importance of that day, woes of women, and put forward their demands for the rights of women. Social media, as did in the Arab Spring, has helped to unite likeminded groups and individuals.
It can also be used to organise people who may act as a pressure group. Government’s decisions can also be influenced. After the wake of Pulwama clashes, Punjab Minister for Information Fiaz-ul-Hassan Chohan uttered derogatory remarks against the Hindu community in general that created a furore amongst the Pakistani Hindu community and the human rights organisations resultantly the minister admitted his mistake as well as apologised. Be that as it may, due to mounting public pressure, he was dismissed from his information portfolio. Where there is wrong, social media can provide a platform in pursuit of the preservation of human rights.
Among many other positive aspects of social media, it also plays a vital role to shape the mindset and have a favourable public opinion provided proper strategy is applied. When the world is grappling with the deadly novel coronavirus, the Sindh government led by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) scrambled to contain the virus in the province, it started earning appreciation. In the subsequent days, social media whether it was YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or any other medium, everyone was generous enough to pour their appreciation for the Sindh government and its Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah. Earlier the PPP’s reputation was marred and the party was considered as synonymous to corruption, maladministration and nepotism. However, the recent leadership exhibited by Murad Ali Shah has reshaped public opinion in PPP’s favour.
With its vast social clout, it may lead a person to overnight fame. Sometime back, when Arshad Khan, popularly known as Chai Wala’s fate changed by a simple social media post. When a blogger came across his tea stall and had had a brief conversation, the blogger posted story on social media. He rose to popularity and later on media reported that he has started working as model for the showbiz industry.
Social media is a hope for the suffering souls. Lately, when a person tagged journalist Rauf Klasra regarding the ill-health of poor person. In return, Rauf Klasra tagged Aon Abbas Buppi, the Managing Director of Pakistan Baitul Maal, and the needy person was helped by the later organisation’s available funds. Hence, social media is a source of help for those in need and they may approach the authorities with regard to the redressal of their issues. Otherwise, approaching officials would have been difficult for the residents of the far-flung areas.
Earning through social media is also its attractive feature. Many people have adopted vlogging as profession and are earning sufficient amount. A Hyderabad-based funny vlogger on social media Mr. Asghar Khoso admitted that though is uneducated, yet with the help of his friend he has learnt to make videos and then to upload them. Besides, he earns sufficient amount that is enough to meet his household expenses. He further said that social media has made him a star and now he is being invited at different shows including overseas Pakistanis residents of Sindh invite him to Middle Eastern countries in this regard. Many other YouTubers such as Nas Daily, Casey Neistat, Pew Die Pie, etc. have achieved fame at the global level and are earning in thousands of dollars with the help of social media. Hence, social media will always remain attractive even from the earning perspective.
Whereas the social media is successfully thriving, it has its downside as well. Overuse of social media is prevalent these days, resultantly important tasks are overshadowed by the trivial issues as one is too occupied in browsing social media to do anything else that requires serious attention. It is believed that social media is one of the reasons of the broken relationships. Between a husband and a wife, anonymous contacts and messages may give rise to suspicion and resultantly to domestic violence and separation. A newspaper shared a story that these days’ parents are occupied with the social media and children remain neglected. Consequently, its overuse is the killer of personal relationships and wastage of time.
Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbels says, “tell a lie thousands of time, it becomes truth”. In unregulated digital space, vested interests have found it handy to advance their agenda. If anything is posted, it gets shared over and over again. Few days back, when a horrendous attack in hospitals in Afghanistan came under attack, one of Afghanistan’s serving military official shared a picture of a gun and bag having a badge with the Pakistani flag.
Thereon that official attributed the attack as carried out at Pakistan’s behest and that tweet was shared thousands of times. Thereafter, it came to be as false and unsubstantiated allegation and that very picture was available on Tumbler since 2016. Thus, it takes just one click to harm any individual, or group or country’s reputation. Additionally, such rumours may also instigate communal and sectarian conflicts.
Minister Fawad Chaudry’s fight with journalist Sami Ibrahim brought to the fore a new dimension of social media that argumentation on social media may turn into the real-world fights. It was twitter based issues that led to slapping of Sami Ibrahim. Moreover, Punjab Assembly’s MPA Seemabia Tahir submitted a resolution condemning journalist Imtiaz Alam for sharing a cartoon that put the country in negative light.
Unfollowing on social media platforms is construed as signal of displeasure. When the incumbent Prime Minister Imran Khan unfollowed journalist Hamid Mir from his Twitter account, interestingly news channels reported it as the former is unhappy with the latter. Similarly, the White House official Twitter account unfollowed Indian prime minister Modi, it was celebrated in Pakistan as the White House is unhappy with the Indian prime minister over suppression of minorities in India. On the other, Indian politicians demanded from their government to take-up that issue with the Trump administration and lodge a protest in this respect.
Social media with its vast outreach and influence can harm a person’s reputation and render a person from hero to zero. Days before the Aurat March, famous drama writer Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar had had a bitter argument with activist Marvi Sirmed and the former uttered derogatory remarks. It created a huge anger against the former and was widely condemned. A channel and different actors boycotted to work with him for his misogynistic remarks. Social media turned Arshad Khan (Chai Wala) a hero, but zero to Khalil-ur-Rehman.
Defamation and trolling on social media can be the cause of mental suffering. Because of sharing a post that many do not find interesting, unleashing constant criticism, biased comments, and violation of privacy collectively put a person into the negative light within the society. During the last PSL opening ceremony, Ahmed Godil’s performance as a host was disliked by the viewers and he was trolled on social media. Two days later, Ahmed told a morning show host that his life was made worse by trolling, calls, messages, and his life had been made worse.
Furthermore, a wife complained to the FIA’s cybercrime wing that her private pictures are being on Facebook to defame her. When the FIA investigated the matter, the complainant’s former husband was found to be behind the nefarious design. That below the belt act brought infamy and as a result caused mental suffering to the lady.
Terror outfits are widely using social media to spread their poisonous ideology and for the purpose of recruitments. They find it easy to monitor different profiles as it is said “social media profiles and thereby a person’s activities on the digital space are the reflection of one’s personality”. So, the terror organisations observe activities and hire potential recruits to those, whose mindset is ideologically aligned with them. Case of Naureen Leghari, who was a medical student in Jamshoro, was recruited by the militant Islamic State. Fortunately, it was detected by the security agencies and was off-loaded from aeroplane. During interrogation, it came to light that she was going to join ISIS in Syria and was influenced through the social media.
Keeping in view the both positive and negative aspects of social media, it is vital to take some regulatory measures in order to make the platform safe, productive and interactive.
The users primarily themselves should be very critical as consumers of social media content. They ought to ascertain veracity of the news before onward sharing. Also they need to know well before interacting any unknown person whom they are accosting or vice versa. One possible remedy can be to judge a person through the profile such as from where they are, got education from which institution, their mutual friends or followers. That very judgment will also keep the expositors, like that of the recruiters of Noureen Leghari, at bay.
On top of that, the users should strike a balance between no-use and over-use of social media. They should use the social media as source of connectivity and information, rather than being too occupied most of time while using these very tools. It will not only be profligacy of time, but also will hurt personal and professional relations. After all, everything has a price and over usage of social media will certainly be at the cost of giving inadequate time to family and workplace.
Against the backdrop of rising challenges, there is a need to further regulate the social media platforms but not at the cost of privacy violation in the best interest of public. The respective governments should enhance their regulatory mechanism in coordination with the social media organisations and come up to a pragmatic solution in this regard. Safety of individuals, public law and morality should be top priority, but must ensure it does not intrude upon one’s privacy under any such consideration. That combination will add more to credibility of the process.
The social media management should contemplate on blocking any account in case the user indulges in spreading fake news, immoral and violent content more than thrice. In such a scenario, the IP address should also be banned from creating another account so that the violator of rules may not be able to sign-up once again by using different email ID.
Mark Zuckerberg, head of Facebook, announced an independent oversight board for the content moderation comprising of 20 members belonging to different countries. It is indeed significant development in the right direction. Other such mediums should also take similar initiatives and it must ensure that the decisions of such independent boards are acted upon and binding.
The members of the United Nations under the aegis of UNO may come up on a joint plan of action in this respect. Adoption of the International Convention on Social Media Ethics will be an essential step. That should address all the underlying issues confronted by social media. It will pave the way for more responsible, transparent and accountable social media platforms and make it more trustworthy.
Lastly, emergence of social media and rising competition made it more user-friendly. However, over the course of time, it juxtaposed the positive and negative aspects of the social media. It can connect us to our loved ones and like-minded people and groups, help in highlighted issues, connecting with the authorities, or leads one to the overnight popularity as was witnessed in Chai Wala’s case. On the contrary, it entails many challenges for the users. Amongst them are it keeps a person busy in using social media for more time than necessary. Besides, terrorists are using it for their nefarious activities such as propagating hatred and looking for recruitments.
Spread of fake news is also prevalent in social media that is the cause of many social issues. In order to promote the positive use of social media, it is necessary to make additional regulatory mechanisms such as spreading of rumours should lead to permanent ban. Adoption of international convention on social media ethics will help addressing the lacunae of these issues at the global level and promote it as a productive source in our hands. These measures are certainly challenging but not impossible.

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