It is not the herd of sheep I am referring to as I write today. It is also not the extraordinary intelligent few amongst us that are the subject of my writing here. Instead the attention is drawn to the ordinary, simple and often gullible countrymen who spend countless hours on the Internet, sharing their (conspiracy) theories that anyone can find in plenty on social networks and discussion forums.
While the Internet can be an engaging and sometimes amusing place, the attraction does not end easily. After all, where else would anyone find an abundance of interesting content for all ages? If spending time, lots of it, was a favorite hobby for many, then the Internet is the ideal place to do exactly that. Probing “friends” profiles, commenting on photos and tagging and poking acquaintances on social media has become pervasive.
Social networking sites such as Facebook have global popularity. Pakistan is also not far behind in social media growth statistics. There are currently about 6 million Pakistanis on Facebook. How time is spent on such websites is open for debate, but having healthier, productive relationships with real “friends” is a different domain all together.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am a strong proponent for social media use and also cognizant of its myriad of productive uses ranging from information access, learning, collaboration and the simple fact that it allows us to connect with other people. It is indeed a powerful tool if used wisely.
A famous French social psychologist Gustave Le Bon in 1895 (from the times of the French revolution) talked about the dynamics of crowd psychology. Crowds have often been seen with awe and fascination. The combined power of the people can do wonders. For example, history proves that groups of people have been able to bring about rapid social change. In the online world, such groups can prove influential and their combined strength may do things that may potentially change social norms.
Positive change through online means may take place when a group of people may thoughtfully produce and share content that inspires others into further positive action. Examples of such range for raising awareness of an issue related to human rights, promoting the idea of cleaner cities etc. On the other hand, a gossip, an inappropriate image or a video can spread because we choose to do so. There is no shortage of a certain type of crowd that shares everything, and says anything, come what may. There is also no shortage of Facebook “likes”, even if what is shared is telling us of somebody’s sad demise.
With the great power afforded by the new media where we can spread information in an instant, let us not forget that we have an even greater responsibility to be rational. Yes, we do have amazing technological communication tools at our disposal, but what is often shared is in no way advanced. A promotion of democratic norms through free speech is desirable but what actually gets said and shared may not always be desirable. It is just like those old days when gossip would travel by word of mouth and at the end of the day end up to be a deceitful saga, ultimately spreading misinformation. What needs to be done is verifying if at all we want to share something with someone.
The other day, a person in my subscribed list, whom I personally know to be very rational, shared an image that was an ordinary joke but with a picture that may not necessarily conform to our ethical standards grounded in our general societal norms. Yes, it can pass by easily, but at the end of the day, it is through mass circulation through the unregulated new media, that is changing the norms of an entire generation about what used to be acceptable and what has now become acceptable.
I do not have any right to judge others based on a simple image shared on social media, but what I am trying to get attention to is the fact that new media has its own dynamics and often our inexperienced younger generation (and even older ones) do not think about how they are being impacted, and how they transmit this impact to others.
For much too long, we remain silent at all that we see and experience through new media, whether it is Facebook or a video on YouTube. It is about time, we think twice before posting any piece of writing, picture or video. We are far above mere copiers and sharers of information that we have no clue of, or no means of confirming.
The writer is a doctoral candidate of Media and Information studies in Michigan, USA. He can be reached on Twitter @laeeqk.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.