- Social media plays an integral role in our lives today and has a huge bearing on society and individuals.
- Social media has revolutionized the way people communicate and socialize on the web.
- There is a positive effect on business, politics, socialization as well as some negative effects such as cyberbullying, privacy, and fake news.
- The phenomenal rise of social media (SM) platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and others is proving to be a double-edged sword in the functioning of democracies.
- On the one hand, it has democratised access to information. On the other hand, it has concentrated power over that information with a handful of private companies, their billionaire owners, and certain ideologically committed activist groups.
- Billions of netizens around the world now feel empowered to bypass traditional curators of information, such as journalists and editors, in searching for their choice of content.
- They have also become creators and disseminators of content, not just consumers of it.
- Social media is a platform which is highly liberal and it allows common citizens to put forward their views regarding a policy, act or ordinance.
- Social media allows people to directly communicate with their leaders and vice versa.
The public opinion is amplified on social media, making democracy more transparent and even stronger.
- “The Power of Social Media is that, it forces Necessary Change.”
- It is generally agreed that social media provided crucial source of news during the Arab Spring.
- It helped in creating awareness about several issues, eg the fight for LGBTQ rights etc.
- Social media has definitely made us closer to other parts of the world.
- WhatsApp is important for rural users, as it helps them cheaply connect to family members far away and send pictures of their products to clients across India.
- Social media platforms provide a platform to raise their voice against injustice and inequality. Voices previously excluded from conversations can now find a channel.Positive Impact of Social Media
- A few decades ago, if a farmer died due to non-repayment of loans, only the family mourned for the loss. Today if the same happens, the entire nation seems to empathize with the death of such farmers.
- Social media have increasingly been adopted by politicians, political activists and social movements as a means to engage, organize and communicate with citizens.
- Technology is double-edged. There are reasons to cheer as also to despair.
- Social media has various negative impacts like privacy issues, information overloads and internet fraud.
- Social media has made the world a small space by allowing mass cultural exchange and intercultural communication.
- India being a secular country is a home for the people of various religious and cultural beliefs. When these beliefs clash the consequences are unpleasant.
- A mere comment or opinion on a certain belief on social media spreads like fire leading to riots and destructive rallies.
- Its heavy usage has ill effects on health issues and there is cyber bullying, online harassment and trolling.
- The trolling of women has brought to the fore the disturbing reality of online violence and abuse women face in India.
- A study was conducted to determine the extent to which a person’s opinion is influenced by a group. According to it, an individual was willing to give a wrong answer just to conform to the majority view. This also explains the impact of fake news online, which is said to contribute to a polarised society.
- A study found that factors like user homophily and algorithmic filtering have created the cycle of enforcing and reinforcing belief systems. This ensures that we don’t open our minds to diverse opinions.
- User homophily means users in a social system tend to bond more with ones who are similar to them than to ones who are dissimilar.
- We are getting trapped in narrower world views that are seeping into not only voter behaviour but everyday personal interactions.
- WhatsApp faced severe criticism as lynching incidents flared up by free flow of fake news on the platform.
- Twitter along with Facebook came under intense scrutiny of policymakers in the US for its failure to stop the spread of misinformation during the 2016 election.
- WhatsApp launched a nationwide campaign called “Share Joy, Not Rumours” to help prevent the spread of rumours and fake news.
- Facebook launched #Socialforgood campaign to address issues such as cyber bullying, mental wellbeing, and entrepreneurship and was targeted primarily at young users.
- Twitter launched #PowerOf18 campaign to encourage youth to contribute to public debate and participate in civic engagement in the upcoming election season.
- These campaigns are a way to take ownership of what’s happening on these platforms and find ways to weed out negative content.
- Has social media cumulatively helped the average citizen more in this pandemic than most modern governments?
- Yes, It connected broken healthcare, breaking news, kind volunteers and depressed loved ones through a digital string in a way a lot of heads of states failed to do.
- But we need these mediums for even more important reasons to amplify the crying rallies of the weak and curtail the trampling arrogance of the strong.
Challenges of Social Media in Democracy
- Corporate and political power has overwhelmed large sections of the media, both print and visual, which lead to vested interests and destroy freedom.
- The rise of polarizing and divisive content has been a defining moment of modern politics, which is fed by fake news propagation through social media channels.
- Section 124a of IPC under which sedition is punishable by life imprisonment endanger the freedom of journalists. This lead to fear among journalists to work freely.
- Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 imposes certain obligation on significant social media intermediaries.
- Another dangerous element is the labelling and trolling of more rational voices or those who disagreed with the government’s actions or dominant public discourse as “anti-national.”
- Many terror modules were busted by police in India, all of whose members were groomed, trained, funded and armed by their handlers on social networking sites.
- World over, there are cases of terrorist operations, especially lone wolf attacks, being coordinated through social media.
- A better and more effective approach to limit the influence of hoaxes on WhatsApp and other platforms is to increase media literacy.
- Data leaks at Facebook and Uber in the recent past have proven that the encryption has to be so high.
- The government should bring out a policy framework on the possible harm due to the internet messaging platforms to engage at a deeper level.
- The need of the hour is to tackle the gendered aspect of online abuse and uphold the rights of women in India.
- The media Wing of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has been assisting various arms of the government in keeping an eye on activities on various social media platforms. Such practices must be encouraged at all scales and institutions.
- Several Social Media houses have put up a mix of automated and human driven editorial processes to promote or filter certain types of content.
- These Artificial Intelligence units will automatically flash the danger of mis reporting every time an image or news is shared. This practice must be strengthened and disseminated.
As India is not a surveillance state, there must not be any illegal or unconstitutional check on the right to privacy and freedom of speech and expression which are the fundamental rights of every citizen.
There must be a balance as the Constitutions itself has provided several limitations on one’s right to speech and expression.
Social Media Platforms can provide safeguards in the event that democratic processes are being intentionally disrupted or harmful falsehoods are spreading, it can help people find out what is true.