WITH the advancement of technology and induction of the fastest internet
connections, the influence of social media has increased manifold. It has also helped in shaping public perceptions. That is why different lobbies heavily invest in building social media teams for the promotion of their agendas. As the social media has become inevitable part of our lives, we are not immune to its positive and negative influences. Its fundamental purpose is to connect people with their loved ones. The more we grow old, the more disconnected we are with our loved ones. So, the social media provides a platform to be connected with friends and family despite physical distance. This writer has personally benefitted from social media many a times. For instance, during my application process for the prestigious Quaid-i-Azam University, as the operators are not much responsive or do not have adequate knowledge about the department-specific details, benefitted while contacting the departmental seniors through social media.
It has such an influence that one can be a celebrity overnight, if promoted. Arshad Khan, the Chai Wala, became a model once a blogger shared his picture on the social media. During the last Indian general election, Reena Dwivedi, who was on duty at a polling station in Lucknow with her good looks and updated with fashion vogue in yellow Saree and sunglasses, became Internet sensation and enjoyed the celebrity status. Time and again, her news is shared by print media and YouTube is abuzz with the comments regarding her.
It is a source of mobilization. Masses are mobilized and movements are organized by coordinating through social media. In late 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, it ensued a series of intense protests against the Middle Eastern and North African monarchies by the citizens of their countries which compelled many to resign Ben Ali in Tunis, Ali Abdul Saleh in Yemen, Hosni Mubarak in Yemen and Gaddafi was killed, etc. Similarly, it has played a vital role in South Korea in mobilizing people in South Korea against former President Park Geun-hye and the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests.
Conversely, social media has far serious negative consequences. First and foremost, it has strengthened an emotional detachment within the human relations. That can almost be translated that the human relations have lost their importance with the rise of this phenomenon. One can find people busy in using social media almost all the time. This writer was once invited by a friend at the gathering for friends meet-up. Upon arrival, I was shocked to observe that the friends whom we were to see after a long time, after the luncheon, everyone was busy using different mediums of social media. Hardly, any invitee was interested in discussion there ignoring the fact that it was friends’ meet-up after a few years. It was due to the overuse addiction of social media as they have nothing new to share or a common topic to talk about. May be next such meet-up cannot be arranged as many of the invitees got bored with the situation, albeit they did not explicitly express their frustration. Simultaneously, in the presence of parents, children are busy using mobile phones and social media, and the parents are mostly ignored and vice versa.
Social media may lead to serious consequences in real-life. Recently, MPA Seemabia Tahir submitted a condemnation resolution in the Punjab Assembly against renowned journalist Imtiaz Alam alleging the journalist for sharing a cartoon on Tweeter which was supposed to portray the country in a negative manner. Further, she demanded “he is involved in anti-Pakistan activities and all the media houses should announce his boycott”. Besides, Minister of IT Fawad Chaudhry’s aggressive reaction against journalist Sami Ibrahim was the outcome of social media feud. According to journalists’ the Twitter-war was ongoing between Sami Ibrahim and the Minister but none expected that the Minister would turn to violence against the journalist and punch him at a social gathering due to social media disagreement.
Additionally, if the rumours have been floated on social media, it can have a serious result for the concerned parties. It has a severe destabilizing effect, for example, scandals attributed may destroy lives and even lead towards suicides as some sensitive souls cannot tolerate the agony and disrepute brought to them by allegations on these platforms which can spread any good or bad news as a wildfire. I was utterly shocked to know and could indeed recently gauge the actual influence of social media when all the social media platforms were abuzz with news and it was being discussed that veteran journalist Hamid Mir was unfollowed by the prime minister Imran Khan. Was that such an important issue that merely unfollowing becomes a subject of discussion? Was unfollowing any sort of insinuation?
Last but not least, the social media organizations must devise a mechanism for preventing its misuse in coordination with the respective governments so that social media platform is not abused or used as a parallel court and punish people on these sites. At the same time, the legislature should amend the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 in such a way that misuse of social media should be prevented including misuse by the relevant authorities. This amendment should ensure freedom of speech as allowed by the fundamental rights chapter of the Constitution and preventing platforms to be used as an actual battlefield. For this purpose, social media organizations should also be coordination.
—The writer is a development sector practitioner.