The first recognizable social media site was named “Six Degrees” and was created in 1997. It enabled users to upload a profile and make friends. YouTube came out in 2005 followed by facebook and twitter in 2006, creating a social media sensation that has literally driven us crazy ever since then. Today we have lost the count of how many social networking sites are there though many of them can be linked to allow cross-posting. Social media has been presented to us as a messiah that changed our lives enormously for good. There are some very obvious reasons to believe in the might of social media such as the following. We are more connected than ever before. Through social networking we have been able to reach larger audiences and have a direct connection with them. People have created communities and expanded their business in numerous ways and also gained a valuable insight about the customers. Many people have been able to build their brands. At a more basic level, it is used to keep track of the children and grandchildren as they go travelling or head off to colleges. It keeps us updated and well informed about everything else. From progressing nations to developed countries, every land is utilizing the power of social media to enhance life. Social media sites did also reunite the people after natural disasters and kept raising millions of dollars for charity.
The debate whether social networking is good or bad is like everything else. The argument is that if the content is not posted with caution, it will open up the potential for embarrassment. As long as we use it in moderation, there should be nothing to be afraid of. But does that really cut the matter short? Well, this is not a so open and shut case. Facebook is under growing regulatory scrutiny around the world. In the USA alone, it faces several government investigations for alleged anti-competitive behavior. Last August, it was fined $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations, the largest FTC fine ever for a tech company. It has now been quite in vogue to call Facebook as Fakebook for all trash and little truth it carries. On a lighter note, some rumors doing rounds these days, ironically on social media itself are that Zuckerberg might be a robot. His serious appearance and his strange mannerisms did not go unnoticed when he turned up before the US Congress for certain explanations. He had unnaturally bulging and vacant eyes, and his facial expressions were very mechanical. He appeared like a hologram or robot of some AI technology pretending to be a human? The software for this robot kept answering every question beginning with the word “Senator…” and had no human engagement of the passion behind the questions. Now this media magnate, has come up with the idea to integrate the social network’s messaging services like WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger. The services are reportedly going to operate as stand-alone apps, but their underlying technical infrastructure will be unified. Surprisingly the move comes at a time when his business has been battered by scandals and he does not seem to care. The move has the potential to strengthen Facebook’s grip on users, raising antitrust, privacy and security questions. It also underscores how Mr. Zuckerberg is imposing his authority over units he once vowed to leave alone. These messaging networks have between them more than 2.6 billion users. This implies that he will be directly or indirectly controlling the thought process of one third of global population and counting.
We may be able to recognize the negative effects of social media on family relationships, mental health and distraction of children and youth compounded by the issues of hacking, bullying, threat of financial loss or even the loss of personal identity but we as a culture are in relative infancy, to think of all sorts of new issues, ranging from privacy arguments to what happens to our profiles after we die or choose to quit. The plan of integration of apps which is in the early stages, with a goal of completion by the end of this year or early next year requires thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger function at their most basic levels. According to the people involved in the effort, who spoke to the New York Times (reported 25th Jan 2019) on the condition of anonymity, the matter is highly confidential. The larger question is why consolidating social media, when every public and private sector has an online platform through well written websites (maintained under rules). Every opportunity is at a click, be it with regard to education or employment or communication or health care or tour and travel and what not. Social media is only a secondary source and not an alternative. Social networking does not turn us into programmers or data scientists nor does it enable us to do a research in artificial intelligence. It rather deprives us of any goals in life. Einstein had feared the day when the technology would overlap with humanity and the world will only have a generation of idiots. In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia. On this subject there is a particularly apt verse in the Chapter Al-Muminun (The Believers) of the glorious Quran: “Successful indeed are the believers, those who are humble in their prayer; and those who turn away from everything vain.” Quran advocates leading a purposeful life. It exhorts people not to indulge in any useless activity. Human beings are vulnerable to fall prey to unworthy pursuits but a true believer is able to conquer distractions and be goal oriented in life. Using technology to distract or deprive others from the sense of competition is an easy way to win unopposed and uncontested. This is similar to what Chatur did in “3 Idiots” to top the exams. To live in a world we desire, let us choose to shut up all kinds of whatsApp. I quit.
Dr. Qudsia Gani is Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, Cluster University Srinagar