There cannot be no denying of the fact that social networking sites have brought about a huge socio-cultural change in the personal and sometimes, political space. With a ‘what’s on your mind’ question that almost begs for an instant answer whose ‘likes’ or added on comments seen as opinion shaping or debate triggers, these sites have not only laid bare personal footprints of people online but also led to spaces for conflict, abuse and spewing venom. This is not to say that social networking sites do not have its benefits. Ask disgruntled consumers who have resorted to airing their grievances in public on online forums and they would tell you that more than a private complaint mechanism it is the more public complaints on social networking sites that got them the desired result. Additionally, in a not so long ago period, organizing an event involved physically sending out invitations but here again, those logged onto social networking sites will be familiar with online invitations that are replacing conventional ones through ‘event pages’ that also updates the course of things, thereby keeping those who miss being present to know about proceedings as they happen.
In a constantly connected world today, the constant demand for what is called a ‘status update’ or a peek into what one is thinking/reading/hearing/going where is leading to a breakdown in interpersonal communication according to various studies. This hardly looks far-fetched as longer durations of online presence means shutting out the real world with many relationship counsellors holding online activities for a contributing factor in the breakdown of marriages and relationships. The footprint of the online world has impacted the nature of the functioning of the media too and even shaped news flow or how events unfold. The Mumbai terror attacks in which anti-terror operations at the Taj Hotel were being beamed live on TV and updates on social networking sites is a classic example of how constant news feed and live updates botched up relief measures and impacted security measures. But the impact of constant mentions online is such that new age media practitioners are in fact being encouraged to use more and more online resources and to stay connected. Just recently, a hugely popular national newspaper got a whole lot of criticism flung their way when it came out that the management had asked its reporters and other staff to submit their account passwords so as to enable more posts about its news output. There are other equally hard to believe but true stories of national media houses that lay emphasis on the number of followers a potential employee has on the social networking sites or the one that makes it mandatory for journalists to make a mention on the agency’s news outputs on a daily basis without fail.
Of equal cause for concern is the tendency for various online forums to trigger off wild speculations. Many will say that the internet and its various social networking sites is a powerful medium to exchange viewpoints and trigger discussions, chart out plan of actions etc. On the flip side however, this same medium brings in its share of negativity and constant abuse when someone’s viewpoint is not acceptable to the other. This is clearly seen from the sheer number of people who use fake names who make life miserable for those with whom they do not agree which is not to say that people who use their real names do not get into abusing people online either through constant nitpicking or scoffing at someone’s opinion. A visit to the various web sites with a Manipur connect is a prime example of the nature and level of discussions, many of which are vitriolic in nature and extremely prejudiced; a pointer that even as we continue to be connected, there is a greater disconnect in our interactions with one another.
Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem