Posted by ramblinginthecity
I open the newspaper and read that a reputed research institute has found that getting of Facebook makes people happier. In another piece, one that has inspired me this morning, I read that many 20-something in Europe are organizing themselves via social media, chiefly Twitter and Facebook, to volunteer at refugee camps and help stations along the Balkan refugee route. Their volunteerism is filling a crucial gap where governments and international organizations are failing humanity through various errors of omission or commission.
This right here is the paradox of the modern digitally connected world, a world that brings everything to our doorstep and yet drives us further into self-obsession and paranoia. A world that has the potential for positive transformation but that also can peddle dangerous misinformation that can destroy the social fabric we live in. Which brings me to something I have been deeply concerned about lately. As users of social media, how responsible are we about what we ‘like’ and ‘share’, how accountable are we for our ‘comments’ and ‘replies’, our ‘retweets’ and ‘mentions’? Are we conscious that our actions on social media influence many others? Are we responsible enough?
Much of the presumably passive behaviour on social media send out the wrong signals to those who are aggressively peddling a specific agenda. For instance, someone I know shared some inflammatory (read communal, racist) content on Whatsapp recently because someone close to her had shared it. When I brought it up, she got very defensive about it. She said she wasn’t going to risk offending her friend by taking a stand and refusing to share something she had expressly been requested to. Does a friend’s refusal to share content posted by you constitute a breach of friendship? How do we construe etiquette on social media, which typically reduces everything to binaries (like or not, retweet or not), unless you are prepared for a longer, more time-consuming, engaged interaction over comments and responses?
Another example of passive online behaviour is the endless sharing and forwarding of hoax messages. From the erstwhile menace of email chain letters that spread in a few days, we’re now in the age of social media shares that can go round the world in a matter of minutes! Hoaxes prey on our fears and most of us respond with a ‘share’ out of genuine concern for those around us. However, sharing a hoax also means adding substantially to the climate of paranoia and alarm around us. I find this totally unnecessary and have started cross-checking the verity of all alarmist messages before deciding to share. Perhaps if we were to be pro-active about warning our friends of the ‘hoax-ness’ of certain messages, we might be doing each other a huge favour!
Coming back to the passiveness of non-engagement. When we refrain from expressing dissent or engaging in an argument, do we fail to stand up for what we believe in? Can we find ways to debate on social media without being abusive, without becoming the trolls we constantly complain about? Is the short format available to us via FB/Twitter/LinkedIn inherently unsuitable to meaningful conversation and more suited to simplistic reductions?
To put it plainly, I’m concerned at the way the educated urban elite is peddling information via social media without really engaging with it. In our own way, by practicing a kind of reductionism we are exacerbating the problem of lower tolerance. We are aiding the creation of a society where nuance and civilised debate is fast becoming an impossibility. We do need to take a step back and think about this. For our actions, not just physical but also virtual, are continually shaping the world in which we live, a world we share with a new generation of impressionable young people who deserve a more tolerant, more encouraging and more diverse universe.