Longjam Meena Devi*
What is Social Media
Social media is an interconnected virtual web of networks by humans through World Wide Web. It’s a platform that showcases various public opinions that reflect the pulse of our society. A question we faced in our childhood was ‘where is God ?’ The definite answer was ‘God is everywhere’. Likewise, social media is everywhere. It appears around us in several forms including internet forums, micro blogging, wikis, podcasts, photograph or picture sharing, video rating and social bookmarking etc. Simply put, it is a form of mass media that can be used for interactive, informational, educational or promotional purposes.
Social media is the trending technology of our generation that has given an impetus to our life. Social media helps established a virtual presence among the global world. The Android and Smartphone application has made us the creator or the advocate of our own views and ideas that can even impact the masses. We get to play multitudes of different roles by sharing our own experiences, emotions and satisfy the need to be networked. Social media has made us responsible citizen journalists by voicing our opinions. Though it is hard to get our presence felt in the actual world it is a great feeling to get access to a virtual world of our own. The social media makes us the perfect informants on various happenings around the world and moreover there is no question of censorship or muzzling of freedom of expression. Though information and announcements come with a good price tag in other mediums such as newspapers, radio or other communication vehicles, social networking sites like Facebook and twitter can hold a chronology of posts or shared photographs beyond terabytes. And it is the cheapest mode of transmitting information that is instant and direct.
The classical ways of transmitting information, such as newspapers or television could soon become obsolete. Social media has grown in the last years, as it is an efficient way of communication and business promotion. The technologies used are not only web-based, because the development of Smartphone has extended to usage of social media websites on mobile platforms. Advancements and globalization of digital platforms and social media technologies is empowering people across the globe to participate, and share content online. India has experienced technology as a vehicle in aiding social change through social media. The growth of social media outlets is changing behaviours, perceptions, and attitudes as the ease and growth of online social technologies induce audiences to become digital activists; changing user behaviour from passive to active, non-participatory to avid participation, and enabling users with a voice that was otherwise unknown or untapped. The power of social media and its impact on individuals, businesses, and society in India has provided an equal opportunity to voice thoughts, opinions, and share information. It provides an attractive interface for anyone to become a creator or advocate of information and knowledge dissemination.
Impact of social media
In 2004, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook as a way to connect with fellow students. Initially adopted by high school and college students, the social network, according to its 2012 initial public offering filing, has grown to 845 million active users worldwide, with approximately 161 million active monthly users in the US, making it the premiere social media service in the world. If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest behind China and India. Launched in July 2006, Twitter is an online social networking and micro blogging service that has grown to over 300 million users as of 2011, according to account tracker two charts. It allows users to exchange photos, videos, and messages of 140 characters or less. Founded in 2005 by Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, YouTube provides a forum for the distribution of video content – everything from cute kittens sleeping to first-run television programs to eyewitness.
A general election will soon be held for the 16th LokSabha in India. The 15th LokSabha will complete its constitutional term on May 31, 2014. Though the Internet penetration in India continues to remain low, it is estimated that out of a population of 1.2 billion, around 150 million people in India are online active users of the various social media and email platforms (71 million Facebook users and 20 million Twitter account holders). Each of these acts as a social-political influence on three to five adults on an average. This makes the size of the social media influence networks to be a minimum of 300 million voters, not a small number at all. The forecast of social media being the game changer in the 2014 general elections of India has become the most debatable topic. Social media is the central point of this evolving catalyst that is going to have a huge impact on the masses. Reports indicate that 160 out of 543 seats of the LokSabha will be heavily influenced by social media. These are constituencies where 10% of the voting population uses Facebook, or where the number of Facebook users is higher than the winning candidate’s margin of victory at the last election. Political parties are beginning to realize the influence of the social media; the recent Gujarat elections saw major use of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Using this medium to understand the issues that influence voters is increasingly significant for the politicians. A recent report published by IRIS and IAMAI highlights the social media trends which are truly unprecedented in political contests. Facebook, Twitter, Google + and YouTube seem to be the front-runners in this battle. Social media users, who are mostly 25 years or above, are avid followers of various networking sites on India’s political issues. They are prolific commentators on political matters. Between 2004 and 2009, the voting population increased from 670 million to 720 million. The number is expected to further increase to 800 million by the time the country goes to the polls. The age profile of the young voters coincides with that section of the population who tend to ‘live and breathe’ social media, accessing it almost every hour of the day, seven days a week. With the increase of political campaigns and processes being conducted through SMS, and audio/video communication through mobiles telephones, it is clear that technology is enabling an unprecedented empowerment and engagement of the ‘Aam Aadmi’ for expressing political opinions.
Social media is indispensable
The addiction of social media has reached such a height that an individual would rather starve than live disconnected from the networking sites. The social media has become a substantial part of the young netizen’s and the generations to follow. Social media plays a vital role in our life and we are always around the social media sites.
Social media platforms
- Social networking sites- Facebook, Google Plus, CafeMom, Gather, Fitsugar
- Micro-blogging sites- Twitter, Tumblr, Posterous
- Publishing tools- WordPress, Blogger, Squarespace
- Collaboration tools- Wikipedia, WikiTravel, WikiBooks
- Rating/Review sites- Amazon ratings, Angie’s List
- Photo sharing sites- Flikr, Instagram, Pinterest
- Video sharing sites- YouTube, Vimeo, Viddler
- Personal broadcasting tools- Blog Talk radio, Ustream, Livestream
- Virtual worlds- Second Life, World of Warcraft, Farmville
- Location based services- Check-ins, Facebook Places, Foursquare, Yelp
- Widgets- Profile badges, Like buttons
- Social bookmarking and news aggregation- Digg, Delicious
Major impact of social media
Information on the latest happenings reaches people in just a matter of minutes even in the remotest corners of the country. The easy and swift availability of information makes social media one of the most reliable sources for forming public opinion. It bridges the gap between the leaders and the masses by becoming their channel of communication.
It brings into open the various achievements of the country. It gives ordinary people the power to reach out to the society as a whole. It can make heroes out of ordinary people. The social media acts as a deterrent on corrupt practices and keeps a check on the working of the government. It has significantly promoted social causes like literacy, health management, anti-dowry practices, discouraging female feticide, AIDS awareness, etc.
Here is something even more interesting; social media can transform healthcare! It is already doing it. At Medicine 2.0, a recent international conference on social media, mobile apps and the Internet pertaining to healthcare, a serious exploration was done in terms of the role of social media in transforming healthcare. It costs way too much, for one thing. We have made tremendous discoveries and stretched the capabilities of medicine in incredible ways but we are not necessarily getting healthier. And in all our discovering and stretching, in all our cool technologies and emphasis on efficiency, we risk losing the personal connection that can be so crucial. Social media can help with all of this, for two simple and important reasons.
The technology is incredible – the possibilities of mobile apps and the Internet are truly endless. Social media takes science and technology and mixes it with two fundamental human needs, relationships and communication .The discussion on the advantages of social media is a never ending saga. Unleashing the unearthed potential of social media is one of the best ways of making the future of mankind endlessly exciting.
With its ability to play multiple roles in an individual’s life by enabling shared experiences, creating linkages between communities and satisfying the need to be networked, its role in creating a deeper engagement is a boon to marketing.
Anna Hazare campaigns and Nirbhaya gang rape protests
It is well known that the colossal protests of 2012 (the anti-corruption movement by Anna Hazare and the outrage following Nirbhaya gang rape case) were channelized through the social media. The government machinery in India had come to a standstill and the events garnered national and global headlines, and got the common man involved. Such events prognosticate the emergence of what we call C-governance or citizen-led governance in India. Not just the political parties, even the government is beginning to experience the impact of social media.
The social media can adversely affect the thinking capability of individuals and instill negative or destructive precepts in the society. As said before, the social media has the power to form and alter opinions. It can portray an ordinary event so negatively that it may force people to think or act in quite the opposite way. The social media glorifies violence and contains graphic descriptions or images. When viewed by the vulnerable sections of the society, i.e., the children, it can have grave effects on their upcoming and thinking patterns.
The social media can sometimes go out of the way in advertising or glorifying certain issues. Usually, a bad or detrimental message is packaged in a glorious way and is made accessible to the public. Movies that depict filthy rich thieves who do not bat an eyelid before killing someone or extorting money from someone and then get away with it, sure entertains people. It also encourages them to act in a way that promises adventure and thrill in life. This way, the social media glorifies the bad qualities of people and encourages them to adopt forbidden ways.
Data suggests that participants use social media to fulfill perceived social needs, but are often disappointed. Lonely individuals are drawn to the Internet for emotional support. This causes problems as it interferes with the ‘real life socializing’. Some of these views are summed up in an Atlantic article by Stephen Marche titled, ‘Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?’ Marche argues that social
media provides more breadth, but not the depth of relationships that humans require. While he makes interesting points about how social media is replacing face-to-face interaction, he fails to cite some of his sources. Recent example can be Sunanda Pushkar’s death where Twitter took a toll on her life.
Tharoor and Pushkar: A Twitter tragedy
Twitter posts have saved lives. A man lost on a ski slope in Switzerland got help when he tweeted his predicament. Another got bail from arrest as his friends discovered from a tweet that he was jailed in a foreign country. But there must be an equal number of stories of human tragedies brought about by social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook.
From envy, heartburn and broken hearts to broken marriages, much damage has been done by unintended revelations in the social media. Suspicious partners bring out hidden relationships, which may never have come to light and hell breaks loose in many lives.
Too much of private life in public inevitably leads to the kind of situation that developed in Sunanad Pushkar’s case. Many people believe that had it not been for social media, she may have had a less disturbed and more peaceful married life and she would have been alive today.
He did not seem to realise that ‘followers’ on Twitter and ‘friends’ on Facebook do not conform to the right sense of the two words. Shahsi Tharoor introduced Twitter to several politicians, but, instead of walking constantly in minefields by
composing their tweets themselves, they engaged ghostwriters to post sanitised and inane tweets. They chose to be boring rather than daring and thus steered clear of Twitter whirlpools.
Pushkar was a recent entrant to the Twitter world. She was probably aware that Twitter was a jinx in her husband’s life, but she felt compelled to speak through the social media. As an emotionally strung and sophisticated socialite, her tweets were interesting and they centred on her married life and the great opportunities she had to move with the high and the mighty.
The influence of Urdu poetry was very much visible in her tweets, but she did not get involved in any controversy. When she greeted me the last time I met her, her first words were: “We follow each other on Twitter!” She was obviously excited about sharing Twitter with friends.
The extraordinary events soon thereafter revealed the risks involved in social media. Spouses have the tendency to comb through social media posts out of curiosity as to find out what is happening in the lives of their partners.
Any little sign of intimacy outside the family is noticed and challenged. They do not realise that it is difficult to compress all the nuances of relationships in 140 characters and that Twitter trails are prone to misinterpretation.
Pushkar had tried to persuade Tharoor to stop communicating with Mehr Tarar, a journalist in Pakistan. When it did not happen, she pictured herself as a woman spurned and let out her fury on Tarar by going wild on Twitter, by sending confused and angry messages to Tarar from Tharoor’s account.
The anger was directed against Tarar and only on one occasion she came close to revealing something about the Indian Premiership League, which would have done him damage. No doubt, the emotional outrage was aggravated by Pushkar’s illness, which took its toll in the end.
To attribute the entire episode to Twitter may be unfair, particularly since it has done so much good for quick, effective and wide communication of thoughts and ideas. Tragedies of this kind have happened long before the information revolution.
But no one can deny that personal relationships have become fragile with the erosion of privacy. The golden rule that nothing that should not be seen by spouses or parents should ever be sent to cyberspace is hard to keep.
To turn to the episode, the tweets and Facebook messages of Pushkar, Tharoor and Tarar will be valuable living evidence for those who are seeking to find the truth. The emotional state of the three and its ramifications on developments will have to be considered. The charges made in that state of mind will have to be weighed with care before coming to conclusions.
Twitter will flourish till an alternative medium is invented in this highly innovative world, regardless of the tragedies and other mishaps it may have caused.
The Pushkar episode should alert the world to the dangers of the invasion of privacy in its desperate quest for speed and efficiency in communications.
Sherry Turkle explores similar issues in her book Alone Together, as she discusses how people confuse social media usage with authentic communication. People tend to act differently online and are less afraid to hurt each other’s feelings. Some online behaviours cause stress and anxiety, much of this associated with friends and the permanence of online posts. This anxiety is also associated with the fear of
being hacked or of colleges and employers exploring social media pages and finding unsavory things posted. Turkle also speculates that people are beginning
to prefer texting to face-to-face communication, which can contribute to feelings of loneliness. Researchers found that only exchanges that involved direct communication and reciprocation of messages to each other increased feelings of connectedness. However, passively using social media without sending or receiving messages to individuals does not make people feel less lonely unless they were lonely to begin with. A current controversial topic is whether or not social media addiction should be included in the DSM-V. Extended use of social media has led to increased Internet addiction, cyber bullying, sexting, sleep deprivation, and the decline of face-to-face interaction According to several clinics in the UK, social media addiction is a certifiable medical condition. One psychiatric consultant claims he treats as many as one hundred cases a year.
The social media attracts a wide audience that reinforces the sustainability of more development initiatives in information and communication technologies among the youths as a prime goal for their empowerment, leading to national and economic integration. On the darker side, it has its massive repulsive impacts on our tech-savvy generations. Social media is of immense importance in connecting deprived nations to the outside world, being a relentless platform which advocates hard core issues to celebrations of a nation. The multifaceted features make social media incredible tools that should be embraced by anyone with an eye on development. For groups that have felt powerless against repressive regimes, social media’s technological leveling of the political playing field provides one of the most important components of any successful revolution – hope. Social media sites which are more popular among social elites and celebrities in India were taken aback after the recent death of Sunanda Pushkar over a twitter war. Social media in India has also been significantly responsible for making huge changes in India’s political scenario with AAP, the newest political party, formed by Arvind Kejriwal who claims he can change Indian democracy overnight. About 150 million people in India are online active users of the various social media and email platforms sees these technologies as a logical extension of traditional communication methods, and perceive social networking sites as a much quicker and more convenient way to interact. But it is up to us that we make the media do certain things for us or else media will make us to do it.
- Dr. M. Neelamalar & Ms. P. Chitra, journal of New media and society: A Study on the impact of social networking sites on Indian youth
- Times of India, Hatred communities – with spreading violence among the people- India court accuses Googles Orkut of spreading hatred, October11, 2006, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
- TYNES, Dr. Brendesha M. Tynes, Journal of Adolescent Research Internet Safety Gone Wild? Sacrificing the Educational and Psychosocial Benefits of Online Social Environments
- Singh, Shalini, 2013. “by next elections, facebook users could equal congress 2009 vote”, the Hindu, Retrieved May 6, 2013, from http:// http://www.thehindu.com/national
- The Game Changer: Social Media Impact on Indian Politics, ORKASH Political Consulting 2013-04-19
- Walker, Miles. “The History of Social Networking”. Retrieved 2/11/13.
- “State of the media: The social media report 2012”. Featured Insights, Global, Media + Entertainment. Nielsen. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
- H. Kietzmann, Jan; Kristopher Hermkens (2011). “Social media? Get serious!
- Safranak, R. “The Emerging Role of Social Media in Regime Change”. Proquest Discovery Guides, 2013.
- http://www.wilkesbeacon.com/news/online-social-networking-benefits-youth-study says