Social media is a ‘phenomenal’ invention. To say that would be the understatement of the century. I’ve been known for bombast but I shall rest at the aforesaid adjective for a change!
Social media is not just social anymore. It has become very anti-social lately as many of us already know all too well. Elements in society bereft of scruples have made a concerted attempt to subvert it. We will delve into that bit a little later. Let’s extoll the virtues first and foremost.
Prior to the advent of social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp only a handful of the world’s entitled, influential, powerful elite held sway over and shaped public opinion. News, opinion, humor, gossip, poetry, prose, propaganda et.al was all fed to the multitudes through the conduit of those in positions of power and privilege. Their point of view (POV) was our fact, their fantasy was our fiction, their controversy was our gossip, their lifestyle was our fashion and their opinion was our truth.
The common wo/man did not bother harbor a POV for nobody was really listening. If they did have one then they simply did not have a platform they could sermonize from and an audience that they could influence. The world was bipolar. ‘Mass’ media was the weapon of choice to control the ‘masses’ by one side or the other. Plain and simple.
The birth of social media was an absolute game changer. For the very first time, the common wo/man had the power and the reach to get their POV across to a substantial audience. It was both a liberating and an empowering experience. If personal computers were the first step in this evolution then the smartphone revolution was like an airborne virus that had infected the vast majority of the world population within a decade. Everybody now had the vehicle to disseminate their opinion available at their fingertips. As if this wasn’t enough, they now wielded the power to push their message across to a massive audience in a heartbeat. The world was addicted to this new drug!
The hitherto unexplored and unappreciated talents started to blossom and flourish with gay abandon. Instant appreciation and feedback meant people were incentivized to try harder and become better. Commentators of every stripe mushroomed with gusto and there suddenly was a wealth (read variety) of opinion available for consumption. Writers, Poets, Comedians, Artists, Home Cooks, Fashionistas, Designers, Decorators and Socialites alike barged through the closet doors and announced themselves to the whole wide world.
Commerce flourished especially the stay home entrepreneur who stumbled upon their captive clientele and a marketplace which was without any startup costs and did not require any establishment expenditure to be paid out to anyone. Marketing didn’t cost a dime too. In fact, in many instances ingenious entrepreneurs got paid just for the fact that they were champion influencers with huge networks to boot!
Of course, the established players in media, politics and industry benefited too and now were able to expand their reach and impact like never before. At least, there wasn’t a monopoly or a plutocracy ruling the roost any longer.
Social media proved its efficacy prior to and in the aftermath of natural calamities in mobilizing not only the administration’s machinery but also the people in early warning, relief and rescue efforts. Many lives were saved as a result of this marvel of science.
Popular uprisings around the world within the last 5 years have rode on the sturdy shoulders of social media to emancipate its people from the stranglehold of dictators and tyrants. It has also helped establish the writ of democracy in these regions.
It truly was a digital renaissance and a social revolution melded together!
With great power comes great responsibility but absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Sadly, not everyone handled the incredble power at their fingertips responsibly. The corruption was but natural. Social media was born with it’s evil doppelgänger; the anti-social media.
The shiny ‘smart’ phones and the smarter apps provided an unfettered 24/7 access to the world but they also ensured that human to human contact was reduced to being a relic of the past. It helped create a society of loners who retreated into their self-spun cocoons of indifference from which they spewed their reality without any sensitivity for their audience.
Cyber bullying became a bitter fact of life. Many young lives were scarred for life and some tragically succumbed to the ravages of this abhorrent practice. Intrusion of privacy, cyber theft, phishing became rampant and vicious still.
But the worst was yet to come. ‘Alternative facts’.
The age of alternative truths had arrived. Alternative facts (read patent falsehoods) were being peddled without even a scintilla of conscience to pollute, persuade and proselytize the gullible. The strategy was to constantly bombard the audience with these falsehoods for prolonged periods of time. The strategy was perhaps borrowed from the Nazi Reich minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels who had declared:
“A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”.
What made a bad situation worse was when the state (read establishment) decided to jump into the fray and peddle some of their own poison. Goebbels the likely inspiration again:
“The truth is the greatest enemy of the state”
“It is the absolute right of the state to supervise the formation of public opinion”
These alternative facts are being increasingly used today to revise history, discredit past and present figures alike but the biggest concern of all is that these are used to deny existential threats to humanity like human inlfuened climate change and to hold democracy hostage by drowning out contrarian voices in the deafening din of these cacophnous falsehoods.
We must not let that happen. We must tirelessly endeavor to debunk and expose these ‘alternative facts’ with ‘cold hard facts’ for as Willie Brown, the former Mayor of San Francisco had once famously said:
“In politics, a lie unanswered becomes truth within 24 hours.”. This holds true not just for politics but also everything else under the sun.
Social media is a potent tool at humanity’s disposal which has the potential to lift up swathes of the worlds population from the cesspool of ignorance, superstition, illiteracy and poverty. It has the power to reach people in the farthest reaches of our planet and has the unique capacity to unite people the world over in a way never seen before.
Despite all its merits, social media in the wrong hands and used with malicious intent has the potential of causing irreparable harm to our society and our future generations. Therefore, it is vitally important that every time we receive or come across any social media post/forward/share/message/tweet we religiously conclude due diligence to validate the content prior to disseminating it. It is also imperative that we don’t just stop at validation but actively rebut the ‘alternative fact’ with the ‘cold hard fact’ on all occasions.
“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”
~ Leo Tolstoy