A book published in 1984 predicted a world that had a totalitarian regime, a Big Brother watching your every move, where words like “love” were eliminated from the language. Written decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union, it aimed to predict what their ambitions could be in the future. Thank God! We have free markets, freedom of expression; our dreams know no bounds. The real question is; are we really free? We live in a world where someone can hack in to our lives by listening in on our conversations and watch us by the webcam or the camera on the phone. Ever wonder how Facebook gets your moods and emotions right all the time, they accept that they once did work to alter our moods.
Social media is a behemoth at our disposals which we “willfully” indulge in to innocently pass time but do you know anyone who can live without it once they start using it? It is our window for escape and perhaps we think that there is no accountability for our actions but there are repercussions. A simple tweet by a lady for her sister for an issue led to the dismissal of a father of four at a renowned hospital, both practicing their freedom of expression. Or what about Mishaal Khan who allegedly wrote something on his virtual wall and was lynched while few filmed him to go “viral” on social media. The main question though is why? Why do we need this?
Take a cue from Maslow, the infamous Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. According to him acceptance and popularity is an innate need a vast majority of us strive for after fulfilling the basic needs. Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge’s work on Maslow and social media puts it at the base the pyramid the central point the main need that enables us to survive. We need to be socially connected and it makes sense as from day one we need to learn and be taken care of by our parents in order to survive and the more independent we grow the need to be connected does not go away. So at the onset it is the best way to remain connected and the advantages are unlimited but like everything in life this comes with a cost.
First and foremost, no matter what “privacy” settings we set up for our accounts the documentation and sales value of our lives has increased manifold and we cannot make it go away at all and ever, it is next to impossible to fully delete you Facebook existence. Currently there are 300 Million active Instagram stories and users worldwide, that is a voluntary revelation about everything you want and need. Not only is this ideal consumer insight fodder but this also is a window of opportunity to instill beliefs and ideas. The Second most important factor is authenticity of information. Recently post indictment of Paul Manafort, Kremlin’s efforts to spread discord and influence the 2016 presidential elections have been revealed in the form of 126 million followers of inflammatory messages. CNN recently ran an expose on how the Macedonian city of Veles has targeted the 2020 US presidential elections being a center of fake news. Even in Pakistan how many times a viral piece of news was nothing more than garbage. Remember how Jane Jetson in the title of The Jetsons used to put a mask on for her video conference? That brings us to the third most peculiar factor that is part and parcel of our social experience, we fake and people get jealous and the vicious circle continues, in a way we have become celebrities in our own right and while loving it nothing good is coming out of it as according to researchers we are being isolated further.
As Pakistanis we are an up and coming nation and with 44 million social media accounts this year we are susceptible of influencing and be influenced. We have a brand image as a country to maintain and the more dis-information by the opposing Indian and other forces we try to quell the better it gets. Recently there was a viral video about counterfeit Rs.500 notes based on false claims, there were false rumors from across the border and of course the political ramblings that disregard the big picture for everyone.
What the influential lady of Pakistan highlights is a need for gatekeepers. There needs to be some form of accountability that should make people think twice before writing something just like they do in real social interactions. We need to carefully weigh the pros and cons before we entrench our lives any more than we already have in this “harmless” time pass that is increasingly becoming harmful. At the end of the day we cannot retract what we have actually written in there? At the same time, we need to re-adjust our attitudinal tendencies giving the information on social media the benefit of the doubt.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Peshawar.