Not many years ago Facebook and other social networking sites were looked down upon as activities of the frivolous and idle youth. Online ‘chatting’ was the new evil and parents discouraged the use of internet in their homes. The scenario today has changed quite a bit. Facebook and Twitter are not just tools to pass time and find friends on the net, they have become modern tools of expression of personal opinion and social gathering in the hands of social media activists, analysts, celebrities and journalists alike. Besides Social Media activists, there are hacktivists [hackers who hack for a cause] who excel at attacking websites of their rivals/ competitors.
It is a fact that the exponential increase in the influence of Social Media is a horrific nightmare for governments who want to have a firm control on what is accessible to the public, as well as for the news and print media who give news in accordance to the agenda of their sponsors. I want to bring forth the negative as well as positive aspects of Social Media in our lives.
Negative aspects of Social Media
- In today’s world of information technology where people spent most of their time on social networking sites, it has become easier to gather information about any individual. Facebook is a dream come true for intelligence agencies like CIA as people willingly share all their information. The contact information on Facebook includes:
1. emails, websites
2. phone and cell phone numbers,
4. business/ job info,
5. school / colleges / universities
6. home towns and current location.
- Like all mediums of media, SM too can be used for spreading of vulgarity, immodesty and illegal activities. As a Muslim, we are constantly reminded in Quran and Hadith about the importance of Haya [modesty] and how Emaan (belief) and Haya are interconnected. If one goes, the other leaves as well. It is painful to see that unbridled youth of today involved in immoral activities on SM and also spreading and sharing it with others. It is definitely the responsibility of parents to monitor the activities of their children on internet and particularly on SM because it can have great repercussions. Just last month, a 13 year old boy in Karachi was kidnapped by the elder brother of a ‘friend’ he made on Facebook. SM is obviously not for children as they don’t have the prudence or experience to make proper judgements.
- Another annoying aspect of SM, especially Facebook is of the fake ids. People make fake accounts for various reasons; sometimes it is just boys posing as girls in order to interact with other females on Facebook, but mainly it is done for more nefarious reasons like spying and psy-ops. In this way, many unwanted people are added in your ‘friend list’ and they can easily monitor your activities by posing to have the same likes and affiliations as yourself. This method is being employed by intelligence agencies, to spy on their rivals and also to sow seeds of dissent amongst their enemies. Highlighting Shia-Sunni differences amongst Muslims and spitting venom about different sects on Facebook, Twitter and other SM sites is also a result of such fake ids.
- The advent of SM has also seen a decline in the sanctity of an individual’s privacy. Internet giants like Google monitor every activity of internet users and provide this data to intelligence agencies. To have some idea about how people are being tracked on internet and SM, enter the name of any person you know in Google Search, whether a friend or a family member and you are instantly going to get information about all their activities in the CyberWorld:
1. their comments on different Facebook Groups.
2. their comments on different blogs.
3. pictures that they have uploaded on social networking sites or other websites.
4. their info on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google Plus that they have made public.
- Another dis-advantage of SM is psychological in nature. The excessive use of SM makes human beings quite anti-social and they shy away from actually spending time with friends and family. Reading books is the one of the best hobbies and it too has suffered as the attention of the youth is wholly consumed by the SM.
- Elections 2013 in Pakistan saw the phenomenon of Social Media reaching its Zenith. In fact its ugly face was more obvious than its pretty side. The Social Media teams of various political parties crossed all boundaries of etiquette and ethics when it came to maligning the opponents. Mudslinging of highest level was seen during election campaign on Facebook and Twitter and personal lives of politicians were broadcasted to the entire public. It is the right of the public to know about the lives of their leaders, but truth should always prevail. Making cock and bull stories, name-calling and spreading fake photos modified by Photoshop, is immoral and decadent.
Positive aspects of Social Media:
Positive aspects of Social Media are not easily perceived or understood by an average layman who uses his Facebook just to share his pictures having dinner or update his status about how he is feeling that day. The greater impact of SM is recognized by highly motivated SM activists and social analysts. They know full well the power they have of moulding and forming public opinions through SM. If used to achieve a greater goal for a sublime purpose and for reasons that are morally and ethically sound, SM can play an extremely positive role.
- Being a Muslim, the first and foremost advantage I see in SM is the sharing and spreading of Islamic knowledge. Constant reminders from Quran, Hadith and majestic words of great minds from our glorious history are a source of inspiration and help in our personal development. If one really wants, one can use SM to contribute to the society in a productive way.
- News that is not shared with the public by the electronic and print media is now accessible through SM. Many dictatorial regimes and even democracies that want to hide their actions from the public eye, keep a tight lid over their media but have no control over SM and hence the people who are active on SM are more aware of what is happening nationally and internationally. The media is actually not ‘free’ even when they claim so because they have to serve the interests of their pay-masters. Unfortunately, in Pakistan we see that Pakistani media is heavily funded by the USA and India, former a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the latter, a sworn enemy of Pakistan. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see that anti-state elements like BLA and TTP are given maximum coverage on Pakistan’s private news channels while the sacrifices of the Pakistan Army are brushed aside. Questions are being raised about Two Nations Theory and the founding fathers of the nation by liberal fascists to stir up controversy. In fact, in the recent years, Pakistani media has actually become anti-Pakistan and anti-Pak Army which is nothing short of treachery. In this scenario, SM is playing a very positive role and encouraging people to use their mind and not be a blind slave of whatever the media portrays as the truth. There are many Facebook pages with huge fan following that are invigorating the ideology of Pakistan.
- Talking about the Islamic perspective of social interaction, we see that clear rules and guidelines have been given for interaction between males and females. Limits of Mahram and Na-Mahram have been defined and as a Muslim, it should always be in our minds to follow Shariah. The one worthy thing that I have observed on SM is that there are boys and girls and even mature men and housewives, who are essentially on SM for doing beneficial work for the society that is in bounds of our moral values and religion. A female can communicate with a male without having to meet him or talk to him. Facebook and Twitter are used as means of communication for doing community work and conveying valuable information and this can easily be achieved remaining in the bounds of Shariah. Not the majority of public, but quite a few individuals in Pakistan are very focused on their work and mission.
- Just as SM can be used for propaganda [which is one of its negative aspect], in the same way it can also be used for keeping the public informed. There are many issues which would not have reached to the public loud and clear if the SM was not highlighting them. Whether it is the Palestinian Intifada, Kashmir’s struggle for freedom or the massacre of Burmese Muslims, the SM activists have been raising their voices on Facebook and Twitter on such burning issues and spreading awareness.
In short, we see that SM is just another medium like the electronic media and is not an evil in itself. It depends upon the person using it whether he makes good use of it and serves his fellow men, or chooses to become a nuisance for others. Let us be the light that others follow and not the dark pits of Hades where others fall.