Power and speed of social media

first_imgGuyana’s social landscape is changing, and its inhabitants are becoming more tech savvy and technologically inclined as each year passes, as they race to keep up with the trends and developments taking place in other parts of the Caribbean and the more developed world.Social media has, since 2005, been redefining the manner in which Guyanese view each other, the society in which they live, and those who wield political power and influence. This newer form of media has, in a Guyana context, become more popular and way more influential than the traditional forms of media and the press in shaping the public’s perception and opinions about good governance, democracy, racism, traditional and non-traditional gender roles, health care, business and innovation, and local Government reform.It is therefore not strange that Facebook, for instance, according to the Columbus Dispatch, has become the modern exemplar of unbridled growth, with an unimaginably popular — and powerful — product used regularly by one-quarter of the world’s population; while Twitter, at 10 years old, is smaller but also has immense power to influence users.The implications of that power are becoming clearer, and 2018 should be the year when Facebook and Twitter turn their considerable strengths — innovation, psychological savvy and tech brilliance — to limiting the harm wrought by their creations.Guyanese must take note that while those social-media masters sold their platforms as a great democratising force, a neutral platform allowing ordinary people around the world to make their voices heard and join with like-minded others, they also designed them to be incredibly addictive and to reward sharing of information. Human nature being what it is, people with darker motives have learned to harness this power for decidedly undemocratic aims.In the past year, we have learnt that Facebook and Twitter were tools used by political ideologues, both left and right, to spread false and inflammatory claims during the 2016 US election cycle. The idea of Americans unwittingly disinforming each other on a mass scale was bad enough; then came word that shadowy outfits in Russia were behind some of the online lies.Guyanese cannot afford to fall victim to this sort of abuse, which is certainly not confined to the US. In Myanmar, for example, brutal violence against the ethnic-minority Rohingya Muslims appears to have been partly fuelled by Facebook postings of false stories and doctored photos demonising the Rohingya while in India. The New York Times reported at least seven people were beaten to death by villagers who believed they were part of gangs abducting children, based on a false claim spread on the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp.Hoaxes and lies have been a part of society forever, but the power and speed of social media amplify the damage immeasurably.Already, several Guyanese have been hauled before the local courts to answer charges related to defamation and character assassination, which took place on social media. Others have been arrested here for sharing sexually explicit images of young women and men on social media without their permission. Recently, two popular make-up artistes ended up in a street brawl because of a feud birthed on Facebook and supported on both sides by scores of Guyanese social media users.That trend is worrying, even if one wants to ignore the fact that the national and global influence of Facebook goes beyond simply providing the platform for changing and shifting a country’s social demographics and behavioural trends.Surely, one cannot ignore the fact that a recent Bloomberg News article described a little-known “global government and politics” team within the company that contracts with Governments and political candidates globally, helping them use Facebook more effectively to spread their messages and make money. Clients have included the campaign of Philippines strongman Rodrigo Duterte and the anti-immigrant German party Alternative for Germany. Facebook cannot do that kind of work and claim no responsibility for political outcomes.In light of this, Guyanese therefore need to become smarter about evaluating what they see on Facebook and Twitter. The Education Ministry should include in the school’s curriculum sessions on dealing with the effects and dangers of social media.last_img

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