Today, social media is a buzzword. It’s everywhere – and everyone feels isolated in an unmanned island, somehow away from the contemporary world, if not using a few of the services free on internet. But what is it?
The best way to understand the current situation surrounding social media is probably a tweet from Google’s Avinash Kaushik, also an author:
OH: Social media is like teen sex. Everyone wants to do it. No one actually knows how. When finally done, there is surprise its not better.
— Avinash Kaushik (@avinash) March 2, 2009
Everyone wants to jump in. It was like internet browsing in 90s or blogging in early 2000s. This probably explains why there are so many users signing up for services like blog, Twitter or Facebook and seldom using them. Because after a few days until you get properly involved into it understanding a few basic ideas, the social media services are as boring as it could be.
FACEBOOK, YOUTUBE & MORE
In a past few years, Facebook has become a household name in Nepal. The penetration of Facebook amongst Nepalis is amazingly high. According to Nepal Telecommunication Authority, 18.34 per cent of Nepalis use internet. Facebook is used by almost one-third of them. The social networking site is also the second-most accessed site from Nepal, trailing only to search engine giant Google.
Among top 10 sites accessed from Nepal, four are search engines, two are Nepali news sites and four are web services that are part of what is popularly called the Social Media. The four sites are Facebook, popular video sharing site YouTube, blogging platform Blogspot and user-produced encyclopedia Wikipedia.
YouTube has become a favorite place to spend time for many. Not only that, Nepali singers and film makers are increasing using the video sharing website to promote their productions. The film promos are released on YouTube. A film director shared a truth: without YouTube his film would have been half-less popular.
What exactly is social media? And, why is there so much buzz on it? Social media should be understood on simple terms. It refers to all web services that enable normal users to produce, distribute and re-distribute contents – be it text, audio, video or any other format; and engage is dialogue on that content through comments, likes and sharing, forming or without forming a network of users.
Facebook, YouTube, Blogspot, Wikipedia and other popular services like Twitter, FourSquare and Kickstarter all fall under social media. There are thousands of websites providing services that fall under the category of social media.
Social media has changed the way communication is performed. Earlier, communication was mostly one-way liner process with little or no involvement of receivers; now-a-days, communication is collaborative communication with possibility of full involvement of everyone in the loop anywhere anytime.
Social media is the platform that supports information exchange between the users. The difference from other types of traditional media is that there is no gatekeeper in social media – the user is the supreme and has all the power over information shared such as editing, changing and deleting.
For example, if someone has an opinion about society or politics in past, there was very little possibility that it would be spread publicly with media mostly restricted by their space, priorities and standard. Now, anyone can write a blog. For a singer to release a new song, television or radio was only option, and it was their discretion to broadcast it, now he can do it easily himself – and promote.
However, the power of social media lies in its capacity to engage users in communication on the information shared. Others can express their opinion thought writing text comments or simply clicking a mouse button of the computer or mobile device to like or share the information. The dialogue following any information can bring the users together for a cause or action.
There are many examples of events planned entirely on social media and executed offline. The recent Social Media Day celebration in Kathmandu was planned on that way – and more than five dozens turned up for the event.
The success of social media is exemplified by the Arab Spring – the protests that took place in Arab countries, from Tunisia to Egypt, for changing the governments. Many claim them to be Facebook Revolution as it was one of the tools used to convene people to participate in the protests and flow the information.
In Nepal, there have been numerous ongoing political and social campaigns, almost all of them much smaller in impact, based by social media. The youths protesting in front of the Constituent Assembly (CA) building demanding timely constitution to the people gathering at the Thapathali bridge to raise awareness of various issues were all social media movements. Among Nepalis, it’s especially youths who are getting involved in political interaction and social action using social media.
THE BOUNDARIES OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media is paradoxical. It is powerful but it’s equally weak. It can be catalyst to bring great changes but it can also be catalyst for brining in chaos. The power of social media doesn’t lie in the technological advancement but rather lies in the users.
It can be powerful when it becomes a platform for dialogue amongst many users. It is weak when users do not engage themselves in productive dialogue. It can bring great changes if the users chose to engage in actions and it can fall if the users chose not to engage. The choice is with the users.
There is a popular example to identify a user of social media: if someone denies accepting a furnished house and rather wanting to work on his house from scratch, then he is a social media user. The example indicates that the users of the social media, by the nature of the platform, are those who should not be offered directive ideas but be engaged in finding out ideas.
The fall of many social media initiatives in Nepal, including much-hyped Nepal Unites, is a lead on how social media works. The initiatives worked when there were no visible leaders trying to direct the people and its work looked like user-collaborative. They began to whine once some try to emerge as leading the groups and pre-determining activities without giving the participants any opportunity to have their voices.
THE LOSS OF PRIVACY
On many social media platform, people lose some of their privacy. They choose to express their opinions, feelings and emotions through various medium and they are no longer a complete-private individual.
We not only express ourselves on social media but also share a lot of personal information – from photos to our choices of friends, likes and dislikes. The critics even say that the information that FBI have not been able to collect in many years spending millions of dollars was collected by Facebook in a few years earning millions of dollars.
The most important aspect of social media usage is concerned with privacy. Although many normal user do not care much about it and shares everything on social media, it’s advised that they should not take social media as only a closed-circuit group but rather a platform where anything can reach unexpected people and bring in undesired impacts. The impact of content shared on social media may be visible within a few seconds or after a decade – and there is no mechanism to find out this.
News of organizations checking in Facebook before employing new recruits; or traveler turned back by US immigration for seemingly simple tweet; or police investigating people on social media should bring a little chill on everyone’s back and persuade them to be careful before putting anything on social media.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS GREAT
Despite a few concerns, negative effects and negative usages, social media is a great innovation of internet. The basic human right of freedom of expression granted to every individual was without a tool to exercise into its essence until there was the social media.
The usage of social media as a tool to facilitate dialogue, create communities and encourage social action is prime examples that should overshadow the negative usages – such as hate-speech, racism and criminal activities. There are pros and cons of every tool; and social media has a lot of good usages which make it a greatest tool of communication ever.
(An abridged and translated version of this article was published in Hello Friday, the Friday supplement of Kantipur national daily.)