Wednesday, June 3

The power and perils of social media today


ON Monday, a 16-year-old Form 4 student leapt to her death after a poll she conducted on Instagram showed 69 per cent of respondents had chosen D (for death) rather than L (for life).

This wasn’t in New York, Tokyo, or even Singapore. It happened in Kuching.

The Internet, and its love child social media, has arrived in full force here – as it had threatened to do so for the past 10 to 15 years. We are looking at its power in the face – full frontal and unadulterated, uncensored, and unfiltered – and it has as many faces as you can only imagine – the power to do good, spread chaos and evil and either make lives change for the better, or in this case, for the ultimate – death.

Who do we blame? Do we blame Instagram, the conduit for her poll? Do we blame those who voted? Do we blame society at large, or how we have failed our children – our education system (or lack thereof), our parental upbringing, or simply the ease with which every Ahmad, Ah Too, and Sulok can access the Internet today?

It’s a bit of everything – if we look hard enough we will find faults everywhere, in all the various places I mentioned, and more.  But it all comes down to taking responsibility for your own life and to finding your true self.

Everyone goes through life differently, but the highs and the lows will always be there. How successfully we each manage our own stress and sorrow, as well as how much we allow ourselves to get happy and carefree – is all very much up to us. Me, myself, mine. Others can opine and suggest; even cajole and persuade. But it’s all up to us when we come face to face with our maker.

The Internet has changed all our lives. Social media online has altered mindsets, habits, social behaviour, and has the ways and means to persuade, dissuade as well as promote, persecute, and provoke. Ideally, it should be a conduit of good over evil, justice over discrimination, and love over hate. Humans have perverted and twisted it for their own selfish needs and desires and ultimately have made it a tool for their own personal interests and gainful profit.

Judging from the amount of traffic and the numbers I have read, and from popular online news portals, I gather that the most popular and widely used social media apps these days are, in order of importance – WhatsApp, Facebook, WeChat, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

WhatsApp is in a category by itself – it is a messenger, video-chat, and chat-group forum as much as social media per se. It deserves a dissertation all on its own.

Instagram has a bigger following among the younger crowd, the youths are its strength – it’s mainly for sharing pictures, photographs, quick quips, and comments. Twitter is very little used here. LinkedIn is mainly for professionals and those active in the business world. WeChat is the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp.

Today I want to just concentrate on Facebook.

On May 22, I would have been on Facebook for 12 years. I was an early bird having joined it only eight months after it opened its doors to the general public on Sept 26, 2006. I have a personal account under my name and a public forum account known as Sarawak Public Feedback.

On my personal Facebook account, I have as at May 16, 2019, 4,959 friends and 4,004 followers; on my public Sarawak Public Feedback it’s 51,912. These figures are not to show off, but just to show you how simple and easy it is to attract so many ‘friends’ on social media if you really want to.

Why did I start on Facebook and make it a personal challenge to try and make a difference, no matter how small or insignificant it may turn out to be? At that point in time, in May of 2007, there wasn’t any forum anywhere for someone to make a personal stand on any issue of any kind, be it social, economic, political – or even to lodge a simple complaint of something wrong in the public domain.

Today it’s very different. With the advent and extensive use of WhatsApp and chatgroups, as well as other social media, anyone can make any subject, object, or issue go viral, and make it known to hundreds, thousands, and even millions within minutes!

Since the day I started reading my grandfather’s perused copy of The Straits Times, after he had been through it, at around the ripe young age of 11 in 1961, I have been addicted to the world of news and feature articles gleaned off those pages. In the afternoons, usually after homework was done, or school extracurricular activities were over; I’d sit myself down in a quiet corner of the old family mansion and spend hours and hours reading and catching up with world news, views, and other snippets of the arts, entertainment, and whatever features had caught my eye.

One could say that at a very young age I already had an opinion of the world when other kids my age were still more engrossed in sharpening their football skills. I’ve always skipped the sports pages at the back of the newspapers – up to this day.

I came upon Facebook so strongly because at that time no one else seemed to be sharing what they’d read – the good stuff, the positive vibes, the new inventive ways and systems, and progress in the world at large. If I had seen a movie, read a book or had discovered a great new eatery – I had just wanted to share it – I wanted others to know of it, to be a part of it. At the same time, I would also have promoted whatever it was that I liked.

Sure, we all have our own different opinions, dissimilar tastebuds, and different tastes in music, books, movies – but at least I was able to share what I had experienced, and let you make your own decision about it.

At the end of the day, that’s what social media should be used for. The essential part of it too was always the connecting part – the primary reason for getting into Facebook was to try and connect with ‘lost or separated’ family members, old friends, ex-classmates, former work colleagues, and so forth. I am very pleased to say that I have done all these, and have also set up as administrator an Ong family group, an Old Thomian Class of 1967, a Borneo-Sebor Alumni, and a few others. Social media like Facebook will continue to connect people everywhere and for that we say thank you Mark.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]