Sunday, July 5

How the pervasive Internet and social media have divided or united us


WE can all agree on one thing about the advent of the Internet: it has made it possible for us to communicate faster and more efficiently with each other, be it by email, text messages, WhatsApp, social media like Facebook or Instagram; and made our lives intertwine with one another on a level and at an intimacy never seen before in the history of mankind.

At the tap of a key on a device that we hold securely in our hands, light enough to tuck away in our pockets and easy enough even for a six-year-old to learn how to use; at the speed of light we can send a text message, a photograph, and even a video-clip to each other! The cost of doing this has reduced so drastically in recent years that virtually anyone can afford to buy a smartphone, subscribe to a data plan, and learn how to use it all within a few hours.

Who could have thought all this was possible even 10 years ago? It was a scientist’s dream or nightmare, depending on which school of opinion you hold.

Personally, I am rather concerned with the proliferation of unverified texts and video clips that are being shared nowadays mainly on WhatsApp chat groups and to a lesser extent on Facebook.

Firstly, I noticed that those who are very active on such WhatsApp Groups (I’ll just abbreviate it to WAG for short) are usually not so active on Facebook (FB) or Instagram (IG) even though they might have accounts there. Probably because it’s so much easier to forward messages by just clicking on one’s smartphone, rather than having to do a share and even say a few words or re-caption if one is to share it on FB or IG.

It also means that those who are very active on FB or IG, seldom, if ever at all, participate in sharing texts via WA and IG. It’s mainly a matter of choice I suppose, but I can quickly gather a person’s style and character by which social media he or she is fond of using. (Instagram users just love photos!!)

Either way, by WAG or FB sharing, there are pros and cons as in any new invention or form of communication.

I’ll mention the pros to start with.

In times of emergency, crisis or getting information out to the most number of people both WAG and FB are perfect tools – within minutes or hours the sender can inform everyone in his group of any major natural or man-made disaster, from earthquakes, flash floods, and terror attacks, to a newly declared rabies infected area or a remote road that has collapsed.

Even calls for assistance for a poor or disabled person, or a lost ad – elderly person from the home or a lost pet – can come in useful.

There are certain areas of information being dispersed, which may be dubious or of problematic value to all – I’ve seen sharing of where there are police roadblocks or speed traps; private residences being robbed or stalked; troublesome neighbours or bad drivers, or even bad-mouthing of a third person.

Where does one draw the line?

Sometimes there are grey areas where an issue isn’t simply good or bad – who gets to decide the uncertainties? Can we simply condemn something or someone without verifying the information or do we just simply forward it along, and share it on social media?

Social media and WAGs work best when they try to do good; as in bringing lost family members back together, reconnecting old classmates or work colleagues, and finding long lost friends. It’s amazing the number of reconnected people I’ve had a chance to either meet or talk to. Speaking personally over the past 12 years since I’ve been on FB and more than three on WAGs, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with many lost family members, former work colleagues, and long lost friends too. I can’t offhand give you an exact number but I’d say pretty close to 50!

It’s a wonderful gift that the Internet and social media have given us – the tool of communication; and if we all use it for this purpose it’s indeed a Godsend.

I’ve also used both tools to communicate news of varying emotions – good news, sad news, and tragic news. When we use these WAGs and FB format to announce weddings, births and birthdays – as well as promotions, awards and great uplifting events, they’re always well received. When it comes to sadder occasions like deaths, sickness, and any other losses it becomes dreaded and shocking. Then there are the disastrous news of terrorist attacks, volcanic eruptions, and flash-floods, which can help the receiver to avoid going to the areas mentioned and to check if their loved ones are affected by them.

In all these aforementioned areas, the Internet and social media help us all, unite us all humankind, as they assist, inform, and prepare us for what comes next.

Then, there are the cons – the areas where the Internet and social media divide us and threaten the very fabric of our society, a tool of discord and disunity. WAGs and FB have the power to send out, share and forward, by the people using them, texts and messages and video-clips showing and telling of fake news, false stories, or invented or perverted or heavily edited video-clips aimed at the sole purpose of promoting and supporting just one side – be it a political party, a cause or a person.

This is when you see the ugly and insidiously evil side of the Net.

The reader, recipient, or receiver of such texts, messages, and video-clips need to be very discerning, and be alert and must educate himself to be able to tell if and when he receives such fake or false messages. First, does it come from someone you can usually rely on or depend on for being usually truthful and not frivolous? Second, check the origin of where the message came from. Is the source reputable, reliable, and well known? Is there a bad ulterior motive behind the message?

If you ask all these questions to yourself, and come off wanting or unsure – it’s usually fake or false. Write it off quickly and don’t re-forward nor share it.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, that’s what the wise man told me.

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