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OP-ED: Understanding Social Media & its Usage by Masses

December 15, 2018 | By

by Sikh Youth Wing

Media are the collective communication outlets or tools used to store and deliver information or data. Social media are interactive computer based algorithms that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas & other forms of expression via virtual networks. This information is used to build narratives, opinions etc.

The common thing between traditional media and new media (social media) is that they are used to store and deliver “information” or “data”. The main difference, from the outlook, is that where traditional media provides content controlled by the owners, on the other hand the social media facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas etc. by the users of the platform, in short its user generated information.

These words information and data are important. We should not get confused about the fact that only data and information can be shared over media (or social media) and sometimes it is dangerous to think of this medium to do a serious dialogue. Serious Dialogues are rarely done on media as it need people to come into physical/ personal contact to have constructive dialogue. The problem starts when we consume social media as an only (major) source of knowledge and think wisdom can be gained or spread via this medium.

Basic human tendency of modern human being to reach to “maximum number of people” in “short span of time” & getting impressed by anyone who is able to do it or who can enable them to do it is the one of the basic reasons behind the rise of social media platforms. But Gurmat does not guide us into this rat race. If we (especially Sikhs in current scenario) are doing anything more than sharing of information/ data on social media and thinking this as a tool to do anything more than this, we need to re-consider and refine our approach. In this article, we are putting forth some of the aspects of the phenomenon of usage of social media by masses.

  • Scope of biased in social media. Is it really neutral?

In traditional media, there are contributors to the content editors, guest writers, letter to the editors etc. All the content on traditional media is not endorsed by the controllers but most of it is. So, that means even in traditional media, there is small room for “dissent”. The control of the establishment is in setting up the” boundaries of dissent”. Noam Chomsky says: “the best way to make people dumb is to first limit the scope of acceptable opinion and then have a heated debate within that limit”.

In short, traditional media does provide room for dissent but in limited boundaries. This is almost similar in case of social media.

How is this handled in Social media? Completely Restricted opinion does not suit the basis on which social media was created (i.e. to have user opinion, their likes/ dislikes etc. and using that information to strategize their products, markets etc. and to sell their products). They need to know what “actually “people think otherwise they cannot plan their strategy. So, in a way, it is open to all to express their opinion, post whatever information you have, share your experiences about places, people, products, ideas etc. Now, until that information( user created) is in favor of one product as against other, or one political party than other, it is still in the limit of acceptable opinion( because they want people to be true so that the corporations and governments can tweak their tactics & strategies to make their idea more sellable but if your opinion is going out of that “acceptable limit” which means instead of favoring or being against one or other product, you have an opinion against the paradigm in which the competition is held, then you are under surveillance. In political context of India, you could be against Congress or BJP or any other political party and can post anything in this regard but if you have an opinion against the very framework of constitution under which this competition(election) is being held then you are under surveillance. First step from the establishment is not to block the people because that does not help them to track people. First they put you under surveillance and when they have political need to block, they do it so. Another way is to bombard the masses with” irrelevant and cheap “information so that the platform still looks neutral but in actual sense, is highly biased as the percentage data on dissent or “real issues” is miniscule as compared to a flood of misinformation. Some nice explanations and examples have been shared in the seminar from Samvad on this kind of bias and control which is exercised in social media.

  • Data Vs. Information Vs. Knowledge Vs. Wisdom: The mechanics of Perspective

Data is un –organized facts & when we give a meaningful sequence to these events, it becomes information. These two basic blocks (data & information), we can get almost free which means these are easily available in abundance on surface level. No need to deep dive to get this. Now, if we have to convert this information into Knowledge we need to put some effort (be it money, time, hard work etc.). Knowledge, is normally acquired through study, research, investigation, observation or experience.

Let’s take an example from a certain Sikh Scenario. When we were young, we used to learn the names of Gurus, Shaheed’s, the Sakhis etc., this all is data or at best can be called as Information (in some cases). When we developed a scientific acumen (through the modern education what we all get in the schools), we started developing a certain kind of Knowledge and questioned the Sakhi of Baba Deep Singh, we questioned the Sakhi of Khalsa Sajna and wanted to know what/how and why it happened behind the tents. What actually changed: We started putting a scientific perspective to analyze the information we had. We were no more in pursuit of blessings of Guru, instead we wanted to get “knowledge” about what Guru Sahib did inside the tent on Baisakhi of 1699. Why are we trying to become “knowledgeable” about something which Guru did not want to share? What creates “knowledge” or “wisdom” from the information we gain in this world, it is the perspective. It changes from treating a piece of information as just data to become a certain knowledge (different at different stages) and finally to wisdom acquired within the Sangat!

Now coming to Social media in this context, what we can best share is data or information, or sometimes knowledge but to create a wisdom out of that is not possible if you rely only on social media and treats this virtual world as real. As said by one of the speakers during the seminar by Samvad, if there is something “on ground” then only, the information acquired on social media can be processed correctly into a “shared knowledge” and can be acted upon with collective wisdom: “Sanjha Amal” otherwise it’s just information and nothing else. Wisdom is the ability to distinguish and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting & applicable to your life or are relevant to the struggle you are in. This cannot be acquired on Social media but what is happening is that with the increased participation of people in this new media, people tend to rely heavily on virtual world to acquire information/ knowledge, do everything on a virtual platform without engaging in any serious dialogue at ground level.

It is also important to mention here that knowledge is not ultimate goal of Sikh. “Gurmat Bibek” is what we aspire for & this “bibek” can only be gained with the Guru’s blessing in Sadh-Sangat and cannot be found on “surface level” information available in abundance on social media.

Due to heavy flow of information on social media with less and less physical involvement in local dialogues in Sangat, we are in rat race of sharing the information/ data to “a large number of people” & “in short span of time” & missing out on the ground level aspect of human interaction having physical mechanisms of Sangat to process the information gained via media (traditional or Social) to create a Collective Wisdom or perspective.

  • Virtual World becomes “THE WORLD”

A friend told this story: –

One day, I met one of my old friend on the occasion of the Gurpurab’s in Gurudwara Sahib in the city of Bangalore (IT Hub of India). We Both were meeting after College for first time (nearly after 6-8 years). The friend had shifted to Bangalore one year back. He said to me that he tried searching for me as he came to know from someone that I am in this city but was not able to find. I got little surprised and asked him where were you searching for me and he said “On Facebook!”. “How”, I got confused, he said: “In various groups” Like Bangalore IT group”, Sikhs in Bangalore”, Bangalore Sikh Youth, College Alumni group, Sikhs in IT etc. First thought came to my mind was ,” Oh!  I should have been on Social media so that I could be in touch with my friends but then I thought how come he was sure that by default everybody is on Facebook because that’s why he searched there and did not do anything else to look out for me if he wanted to meet”.

Understanding this phenomenon little deeper, what it means is that when people actually think the whole world in on social media and they are actually creating a huge impact by posting something on social media, they believe it is reaching to the masses(everyone) and their contribution to the cause is done when they spread the word on social media. In short, it is minimizing our involvement “on ground”. By being “agreed” (by pressing like) or “writing in comments” on the subject which is posted on social media and never actually gathering physically or connecting personally to explore it (the subject) in deeper way or to pursue it further within masses to create a common understanding, we are gradually becoming a passive society. You must have seen posts on social media like “HIT LIKE IF YOU BELIEVE GURU GRANTH SAHIB IS YOUR GURU”, the moral satisfaction people are getting by hitting like there is tragic and funny at the same time.

  • Rise of Virtual Society while ignoring the nearby reality

Another aspect of social media is about creating and living in a virtual society, interacting with people sitting hundreds and thousands of miles away while ignoring the stark reality surrounding our immediate physical self. The tendency rises to try & create an impact in lives of somebody sitting virtually while completely ignoring the social bonding which must exists in local physical societies. It results in getting approval from virtual world about your actions (in terms of likes, comments) and paying no heed to the physical society which surrounds one-self all the time. For example, these days we see lot of videos being circulated about people who are suffering from sickness, diseases, economic problems and the concerned NGOs taking interview of those families and sending them as proof on social media to generate money to help them. At first, this looks like a good thing (which definitely it is!) that money can be generated for the affected family by quickly spreading the information to a large number of people. But the problem lies in the fact that everyone on this virtual platform is helping someone else sitting very far and is not concerned by the need generated around him. We should also contemplate on the question that why our physical local societies have become so weak that the people/ NGOs have to reach to virtual world to generate money for the needy. Why the relatives, local Sangat not interested in helping someone who is part of their physical society? Why local bodies have defunct and there is a moral bankruptcy? This phenomenon exists everywhere. So what is the result: Person from a village/city is helping someone far way while one of his neighbor is suffering and asking help on the social media from a person or organization physically located somewhere. People who are too much engrossed with virtual world restrict (& cut-off slowly) their interaction with the physical reality surrounding them as it doesn’t affect them and at the same time they keep getting the moral / ethical satisfaction from their actions on virtual world (social media)

  • FOMO (fear of missing out)

One of the speakers, rightly mentioned, the FOMO phenomenon. In this unending quest to make oneself visible, people don’t judge the act they are indulging in. One such example is, day to day non-sense new “Challenges” what we see on social media: Kiki Challenge, Ice Bucket Challenge etc. If something is going on, doesn’t matter what it is, people tend to take part in that and showcase themselves in the “trending topic”. This is a rather disturbing trend among youth and kids. People put photos of themselves, their families, their “achievements” and expect people to acknowledge that because they themselves were feeling proud of a “good photo”, “super-pose”, a recognition at office etc. and they expect people also to love them for that. They do that because people, in fact, are “completely in love with themselves”. This is developing narcissist tendencies among kids, youth and elderly alike. “SELFIE” is one such big phenomenon which engrossed people due to social media. Even serious topics such as “Referendum”, “Sarbat Khalsa” etc., which may be understood only by constructive dialogue among masses becomes have become a mockery by participation of non-serious folks who tend to participate in “trending topics”.

  • Impact on mannerism

Social media also exposed us to day to day life of outside world. Earlier people used to know the culture of other parts of the world but were not exposed to day to day languages, slangs, gossips of the common people. With this exposure through social media, the mass, already affected by modernity, perceived those aspects of foreign world more interesting & better suited to the social media culture. Clubbed with FOMO phenomenon, what happened is that they also started using the same idiom, slangs, language. For example, it is very common to put a comments like “beautiful”, “handsome”, gorgeous etc. & the superlatives of such degree (from western world) which I would not like to mention here, under somebody’s photo on social media. THINK AGAIN: can we really say the words which we put in the comments under photos of our relatives, sisters, Aunts, uncles, daughters, niece, nephew etc., when we meet them personally? Before social media, are we really showing the photos of our families, marriage ceremony, vacations to anyone & everyone and are we really telling our uncles, aunts, daughters etc. that how beautiful/handsome/ gorgeous they were looking on a particular day. For example, we notice these days that our Sikh ladies, who normally ensure to cover their heads in front of her father, elders do not shy away from sending a far more revealing photo over WhatsApp from abroad. Surprisingly, this noticeable contradiction is not at all felt in our society any longer.

Conclusion:

We cannot conclude anything on this topic as this was just a view – point open for criticism and further fine-tuning. The effect of the usage of the social media is different on different groups. The people in power just need propaganda to keep their agenda going. These kind of “neutral” platform on which information can be shared with” large number of people in short span of time “are useful for them. Creating a large army of virtual Keyboard warriors to spread misinformation, using AI (artificial Intelligence) bots to exaggerate the importance of irrelevant topic are some of the things which can only be done by powerful people with lot of money and those who don’t have any principled struggle to fight.

We Sikhs, on the other hand, neither can afford this type of tools nor can be subject of such trickery. Our strength comes from Almighty with the blessing of Guru and any “Bipran Ki reet” would be suicidal for us. At operational level, we may take care of following: –

  • The data sharing should be at “information level”. We should not dole out all what we want to say on social media.
  • As heard in one of the Samvad seminar, that real Sangat can be held only with a limited number of people. So, let us not confuse our WhatsApp and Facebook groups as Sangat. Real dialogue can happen when you actually talk to a person and not on any virtual platform.
  • More than always putting our frustration on social media, read and follow what the world is up to, and strategize accordingly. Screen the people & groups you would like to indulge with and then engage with them personally (not only via virtual platforms).
  • As someone famously said “IF YOU ARE NOT PAYING FOR THE PRODUCT, YOU ARE THE PRODUCT”. Don’t become of a product of this market by telling more about yourself as your data will be used by someone else. Rather be an occasional consumer to the vast amount of data what is available and put it to good use “on ground”.

* Sikh Youth Wing, Bangalore.



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