Social Media Causing Widespread Disillusionment

Social Media Causing Widespread Disillusionment
"This is the age of wisdom, this is the age of foolishness...” Dickens’ golden words seem more relevant for the contemporary world, due to the overarching implications of modern technology on society. Technological advancement has bestowed us with lifesaving drugs, opened new vistas for space and astronomy, and the invention of weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, its real revolution is social media - the real milieu of the twenty-first century. Social media has a plethora of prospects, but no one can refute its role as pivot of social instability and fragility, which ultimately culminate in widespread social disillusionment. A viable monitoring system, along with teaching the public critical thinking skills is the need of the hour to make social media a boom, rather than a curse for society.

Sans any doubt, sociopolitical consciousness is one of the profound roles of social media. People undoubtedly know more about their rights and responsibilities, which are deemed as prerequisites for progressive nations. Moreover, social media also ensures some degree of freedom of speech, the fundamental right of a person by the provision of various platforms for laymen. People to people contact via social media spaces truly transforms the discourse possibilities of communication technology. Notwithstanding, the misuse of these platforms carries out confusion and anarchy at both the individual and societal level.

More often, people serve the vested interests of different groups on social media unknowingly. The public at large is largely unconscious that they are pawns of some power handlers which proves Noam Chomsky's suggestion that "hundreds of billions of dollars are spent every year to control the public mind.”  Perhaps, the lack of critical thinking enables the general public to unknowingly become a part of various social media campaigns which are normally fake and baseless. Due to ineffective defamation laws, third world nations like Pakistan seem more vulnerable and all of society is rampant with misinformation, resulting into the sway towards despondency.

Since social media upsurges public participation, it manifests into heightened support for populism. Populist leaders use social media effectively, which causes severe erosion of democratic culture and norms. It has been witnessed all over the world that democracy is in jeopardy, and autocratic regimes are gaining strength every passing day, as populist demagogues find it easy to use overwhelming force on social media to disseminate their rhetoric to entice laymen. The fact is that their far-fetched notions and dystopian worldviews are rather hard to materialize, which creates further distress among the general public. Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Boris Johnson are a few glaring examples of populist leaders, who received immense support from social media to plunder the roots of democracy in their states.

The notion of classical war has also been disrupted through a surge in fourth and fifth generation wars. In this regard, social media has subdued the importance of traditional weapons, by providing an easy and effective avenue for narrative building against one's enemy. We Pakistani have been at the receiving end of this narrative building – where the nexus of social media and nationalism was instrumentalized by our arch-rival India to deceive the whole world by promulgating anti-Pakistan narratives on social media platforms. EU DisinfoLab, a European based non-profit organization revealed in 2019 that India operated hundreds of thousands of fake accounts over the last 15 years to malign Pakistan at different international forums like the UN. Unfortunately, our own citizens also remained a vibrant part of these malicious circles, largely unknowingly.

Political and ideological differences among people have always existed as part of every society. People openly accepted difference of opinion and sociopolitical affiliations in the past. But unfortunately, in the contemporary world, these differences have transformed into severe aversions. The hyperactive role of social media is the main reason behind this partisanship. It is quite easy for bigots to spread hate speech to promotion racism, hyper patriotism and social intolerance, as they are directly connected with millions of people through a few simple touches. Mob lynching, genocide, rising Islamophobia, white supremacy and misogyny are some of the plagues that are bearing on society through social media.

The global community needs to be cognizant that it is a global issue, and a global initiative needs to be taken to revamp social media. States must have a centralized institution, equipped with the latest technology, along with highly trained human resource to monitor the harms from social media use. On the right earnest, people need to be digitally literate for the productive use of social media and to restrain themselves from falling into the traps of novel propaganda.

In short, modern society is a true depiction of cultural lag; we have achieved scientific wonders before attaining maturity, and this wide chasm galvanizes its abuses. Social media has subverted the whole sociopolitical paradigm of modern society by exploiting a naïve public, resulting into the inculcation of social disillusionment. It is imperative that substantial steps be taken to streamline its use, before it becomes too late, as a stitch in time saves nine.

The writer holds a Master's degree in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML, Islamabad and currently works as a freelance writer.