“There Is A Very Fine Line Of Separation Between The Use & Abuse Of Social Media”
Gone are the days when we had to wait for the newspaper to be delivered to our homes to know the latest happenings around us. If the advent of multiple news channels changed the way news was consumed, social media took it to an all-new level. It changed the paradigms of communication all together. In its true essence, social media made it possible for conversations to happen, real-time, with far-reaching impact.
When you think about it, social media gives everyone the liberty to express their opinions and communicate their ideas across multiple channels. It not only allows individuals to create their distinct identities but also helps businesses build and promote their brands.
What started with MySpace and Orkut close to 15 years ago, is now a place that houses more than 15 social media platforms. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest are just a few popular ones. But the truth is, with internet flooding our homes and being with us on the move on our handheld devices, day in and day out, not even the sky is the limit to the number of social media outlets in the world.
Social media has made it a lot easier for people to not just connect with others but also make a difference to society. In the recent past, activism has found a new friend in the form of social media. It has made people realize their thoughts and opinions matter and can make a difference. And when likeminded people come together for a cause, an upheaval in the real world is just around the corner.
A classic case of how freedom of expression when channelized through social media had an overwhelming effect was during the Egyptian revolution, more popularly known as the Arab spring. An unsuspecting young man, working as a marketing executive for the world’s most popular search engine, started a Facebook page to express his opinion about ill-treatment meted out to the citizens of Egypt. The page soon had 300 people ‘liking’ it and in a matter of 3 months that number grew to more than 250,000. Soon people stood up and took notice of this and there were hundreds of other pages on Facebook and accounts on Twitter dedicated to this cause. This online support then transcended into support offline and the revolution spilled onto the streets of the nation and the incumbent government was brought down.
Closer home, the social media outburst when Damini, the 23-year-old medical student from Delhi, was gang-raped is yet another testament to the power of social media. People across the nation came together to express their anger against the system and to voice their support for ‘Nirbhaya’. This soon translated into citizens taking to the streets demanding speedy justice. The overall impact was there for all to see as the government and the lawmakers were compelled to ensure a fast-tracked decision. A colleague of mine drew a parallel of this case with that of Jessica Lal’s murder. She believed that had such social media outlets existed earlier, Jessica’s murder too would have culminated in a verdict much sooner.
The beauty of social media is that it is not restricted to individuals alone. Companies across the world have realized the potential in adding social media to the marketing mix of every business aspect. The truth is that because it is a free medium it allows brands reach out to a much larger audience. However, the term free medium should not be confused with social media marketing being free.
Social media has also helped bridge the gap in communication between the brand and the end user. And the best part is that since it is a two-way open channel, it in turn enables users to share their feedback and experience with the respective companies. It’s given a whole new meaning to the concept of consumer participation, helping brands get better.
ON THE OTHER HAND…
There is a very fine line of separation between the use and abuse of social media. Many times topics are blown out of proportion and conversations are pulled out of context, leading them to spiral out of control. And once something is out in the virtual world, it’s very hard to pull it back. This tips the scale and begs the question: ‘Is social media too free?’
A few days ago, the social media world in India was abuzz with condolences on the death of Sunanda Tharoor, wife of politician Shashi Tharoor. Among the many headlines that caught the imagination of the viewers, a few such as “Death by Twitter” still linger. Social media was being blamed for having played the role of evil in this entire episode. A day prior to her death, a series of tweets by Sunanda regarding her marital life attracted comments both from social networking enthusiasts and by the media at large. Some of the comments even bordered on social media bullying.
There have been several other instances where personal photographs and videos of individuals have been circulated on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It goes without saying, the photographs shared were personal and private with the intent to deliberately to defame the individuals.
Such instances make us wonder whether lines of privacy are blurring with the explosion of social media. Every public figure is subject to public scrutiny, round the clock, around the world. In the absence of moral censorship, the very same medium which has been hailed as an asset time and again turns into an enemy.
There are also instances where objectionable and provocative content has been shared on social media channels, also resulting in communal violence in some cases. It makes us question that while technologies were built to enhance our lives, have we forgotten to address their drawbacks in the process?
Brands and businesses have also had instances of public shame when their social media channels have been mismanaged. But what’s more worrying are not the cases of mismanagement but the cases where in brands stand exposed to corporate sabotage. There have been instances where competitors under the garb of anonymous users comment, or fake user profiles hijack social media campaigns and posts. There is always a clear and present danger of maligning the brands with fake feedback, which can be misleading and blasphemous in nature.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. There have also been several incidents where disgruntled employees have resorted to unwelcome comments on company pages, to get back at their employers. Although there are cyber laws to protect companies against unwarranted outbursts, once the damage is done online, it’s almost irreversible and will significantly impact the brand.
To sum up, social media is not just about technology. It’s not just an innovative communication media either. It is what it is because the users make it social.
To quote a cliché, it is a double-edged sword that can serve as a boon when used right, and as a bane when misused, with the wrong intentions.
If used well, it can serve as a watchdog for society and help uphold values. But it is an undeniable fact that uncontrolled, it will only create more problems and unpleasant experiences for both individuals and brands.
It is therefore important to educate and promote the right usage of social media. It would not only need conscious self-censorship by individuals but also stringent and effective laws to keep the troublemakers at bay. Freedom of expression is upheld by every social media channel but it’s our duty and obligation as individuals to ensure the rightful use of it and to understand where we need to draw the line.
*This article first appeared on http://bit.ly/1exNqLS