“We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media; the question is how well we do it.” Erik Qualman
Man, as the old adage goes, is a social animal. He thrives on, and in fact needs, social interactions to maintain himself, his identity, his persona, his mind and even his body preferably in a healthy state. Social media taps into these primal needs of the human being. No wonder that social media sites and social media apps have become so popular today. In fact, there is more to social media apps inasmuch as they have some very valuable features like providing a platform to meet new people and making friends across international borders; allowing users to join groups of others who share their passions and interests; providing specialized fora or platforms for various activities like job hunting; providing the real time news about the happenings around the world and more than anything else, being absolutely free. With the rise in popularity of these platforms, it was only a matter of time before business took notice of the growing trend. Savvy entrepreneurs quickly jumped on to the bandwagon to promote themselves and their products, eventually evolving into the mass social media marketing industry we all are familiar with today.
In the beginning, like most men of my age, I was naturally biased against social media for the reason that combined together with technology; it had corrupted our abilities and incentives to actually talk to one another. Now, in the overwhelmingly changed scenario, I find it imperative to take a step back and have a more enlightened and balanced look at social media. After some exhaustive research, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that social media is here to stay largely because the younger adults and kids simply love it. So, whether we may like it or not, it looks most improbable that anyone will cause its demise.
There is no doubt that social media has the unintended bad and ugly side to it because of which also many of us had aversion towards it. Take, for example, the evil of cyber bullying. Before social media, everything was simple even when it came to bullying. With the advent of the internet, a new form of bullying has been introduced to tease someone by creating a fake account. With a fake account, one is able to do everything without anyone knowing about one’s real identity. Bullying like this has become easy through the internet.
Hacking is another main disadvantage. It involves stealing someone’s personal data and invading his privacy to share with other people. This can cause a big loss to personal lives. Similarly, stealing an individual’s identity can also result in major financial losses. Accounts on Facebook and Twitter have been hacked in the past and the hackers have notoriously posted inappropriate things from these accounts that have affected the personal lives of people and in many cases, ruined the lives and reputations of people whose identities were stolen. Many a fraud and scams have been reported on social sites where individuals have been duped by other people into believing something or buying something only to find out later that it was false all along. There are many influencers and bloggers on Instagram and Facebook and it’s hard to find out who offer authentic engagement and which ones are just flashy frauds.
And to top these all, is the menace of addiction. Social media is quite addictive and this part of the technology is highly damaging and detrimental for personal lives. Instances are legion where different members of the same household are busy with their mobiles unmindful of the duties each one of them owes to the running of the house. Teenagers, who have been particularly targeted by some of these sites, get hooked and extremely involved and eventually, get themselves isolated from the society. Their lives become so much dependent on it that instead of indulging in productive tasks and activities that can be beneficial for them personally and the society generally, they choose to waste their precious time on social networking sites.
The excess use of networking sites has also created many health issues that include both physical and mental instability. People who are addictive to these sites are experiencing many negative side effects such as headache, eye strain, social withdrawal, and sleep deprivation, which in turn, triggers sadness instead of wellbeing. People tend to continuously compare themselves with others and the pressure to look perfect all the time pushes them into depression.
Looking to all this stuff of negativities, our apprehensions were not entirely unfounded. But all these negative side effects notwithstanding, social media has proven to be a great boon for the mankind. The primary advantage of social media is connectivity. People from all over the world can connect with each other with ease and convenience. Considering that our world has various religions and belief systems that separate and divide us and even create boundaries, networking sites are that one blessing that blur these boundaries if not eradicate them altogether. Regardless of their beliefs, religion, faith and culture, it has promoted peace at large. It makes everyone stand equally on one platform without the existence of such differences. The beauty is that one is able to connect with anyone and everyone to share one’s thoughts and opinions with the world at large, without the fear of being judged.
Another obvious and potent benefit of social media is the spread of education. Networking sites have immensely benefited the education sector all over the world. With the arrival of online classes to the availability of all kinds of learning resources, all students, nay human beings of all ages, can easily educate themselves. Regardless of one’s location and background, one can effortlessly increase one’s knowledge from anywhere anytime and watch videos on websites like YouTube without any expense as we all witnessed during these pandemic months.
Yet another primary advantage of this innovation has been how there are sections and groups on Facebook and Twitter which dedicate their efforts and time to help people out of the problems they face. Besides, people all over the world volunteer to listen to us and try to understand our problems.
Still another hallmark of the gains of social media lies in making the huge mountain of information available to us free of charge and that too with regular updates. Before this innovation, people had no idea as to what exactly was going on in and around the world. Now they are able to educate and update themselves not only with the current happenings, but also source any information on any subject or in any field of activity. Televisions and print media have limitations and their version of news and views being at times biased may not convey the right information all the time. Contrarily, this platform guarantees to provide us the right information and authentic facts which require only a little bit of researching and due diligence on our part.
Just as it can spoil and ruin the reputations of people and businesses, it can also be instrumental in enhancing the image and improving their reputations, which would give the collateral advantage of increased revenue. Positive comments and reviews can bring a huge difference to their sales and goodwill. Everyone knows how social media enables people to share everything freely and unhesitatingly. Therefore, sharing positive feedback and comments will let them know that we are not lying and that the product being promoted is actually good.
Building communities of people across the divides of religion, culture and other belief systems on the bases of shared interests is the ultimate good the social media is expected to do to the mankind. It will help build communities not on the basis of any dogma but on the basis of common and shared interests. Thus individuals who may be loving gaming can connect with other individuals who may also be in love with gaming. This will help promote peace, harmony and unification of people across boundaries.
There may be much more to the internet and the social media as new technologies keep evolving and developing. The future of social media can be limited only by the imagination of its stakeholders. The brief history of the industry so far has proven that the rapid change – advances in technology, more-strident financial demands, shifting cultural dynamics – will decidedly transform the current social media landscape.
To sum up, social media remains the most robust marketplace of ideas the world has ever seen – ungated, infinitely rich, and with true global reach. If we’re ever going to have the hard conversations that are so desperately needed – on inequality, the environment, and our collective future – then social media may just be the best platform to make that happen.
Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh.