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Role of Social Media in Shaping Society

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December 31, 2016


What is the potential of Internet in Information Dissemination?

  • The need to seek and share information and build communities is something we all possess.
  • The connected world and the internet services this need at scale, delivering transparency and dramatically lowering entry barriers.
  • This environment, where everyone is a publisher, presents both new opportunities and complex challenges for society.
  • In our country, there are roughly 240 million smartphone users and over 500 million feature phone users.
  • The Internet and Mobile Association of India estimates about 370 million internet users in our country — most of them are on mobile internet.

How social media is misused?

  • Society and its conflicts manifest themselves in what has come to be known as “fake news” — and the internet does aid its rapid distribution.
  • That is not the malaise of the internet or social media platforms, however.
  • It is the actors, very often, competing political and other special interests which are producers of such content.
  • India has reflected these conflicts and contestations for ages but our democratic spirit and tradition have endured much more than identity discord.
  • In August 2012, photos and cross-border propaganda material was misused and spread, sparking panic among people from the north-eastern region residing in Bangalore; the episode even caused a large-scale migration of people from the north-east back to their home states.
  • Rumours were authenticated as “news” and these were published widely.

How these problems can be tackled?

  • All that this event probably required was counter-speech — a strong denial of the rumours and real-time reassurance to the affected people by the state, the community, newspersons and the media.
  • The lasting and most powerful antidote to rumours, fake news and hate speech is more speech.
  • Recently, we have seen the police deploying these positive strategies for community policing.
  • Recently, the Bangalore police actively used social media platforms to quell malicious rumours and fake news when the Cauvery river water-sharing verdict was announced by the Supreme Court.
  • The current climate also underscores the importance of independent fact-checkers; we are seeing the emergence of fact-checking websites in India. This is also a positive development.
  •  It will help nurture a culture of fact-checking and an atmosphere where each individual will be more rigorous in their assessment when engaging with different types of information on different media and diverse platforms.

What is the present trend of contemporary debate?

  • First, there is universal recognition that political polarisation is getting sharper.
  • Second, elections feel like a matter of life and death instead of a worthy democratic value and tradition.
  • Third, consensus-building is becoming increasingly difficult and
  • Finally, there seems to be a tendency to revel in labelling; the line between prejudice and politics is becoming extremely blurred.
  • The spirit of the internet runs counter to all of this — it is about bringing people together, discovering ideas, unlocking opportunities and forming communities.

What is the way ahead?

  • In this connected world, while we try and build all safeguards by investing in fact-checking tools and processes that prevent the spread of hate and fake news on the internet, ultimately we all have to think and reflect upon our own behaviour.
  • We have to decide whether we want to build a world where a human being’s life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” or a world where we push the boundaries of openness, debate and integrity.


Category: Mains| G.S-II| Social Media

Source: The Indian Express

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