The Social Media Conundrum
The Social Media Conundrum | Nida Usman Chaudhary
You give human beings anything and they have the incorrigible potential to ruin it. From relationships to partnerships, from environment to food, from cultural events to history and artefacts, from beasts to mankind. There is nothing which is safe in the hands of humans. From corporate greed to corruption and the closed door political agendas fueling killing and destruction of millions is probably not even the tip of the ice-berg. Human nature is inherently destructive and it feeds on all the negativity that surrounds it. Since time immemorial, exercising control on the ‘nafs’ has been one of the greatest human challenges of all times and sadly, even after all these billions and millions of years, and the many religious and spiritual practices that claim to train the devotees to have control of the self, these challenges remain insurmountable; and you may find it interesting to note that as and how human beings are progressing, these challenges are only growing instead of slowing.
What is ‘nafs’? what is control? And just how can controlling the ‘nafs’ contribute to a better and safer world? Much has been said in relation to this fundamental question. The religious scholars and scriptures have shed light on the matter as well as the spiritual leaders. We all have a dark side and we all must learn to control it and our desires in a manner that is socially befitting so that we can live at peace with our fellow beings.
In our language of law, this controlling of ‘nafs’ translates to observance of basic human rights that each of one us is guaranteed nationally as well as internationally through our constitutions and various human rights treaties promulgated by the inter-governmental organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union; for instance, by upholding the right to freedom of speech we call upon ourselves to be tolerant of another person’s opinion or point of view no matter how much we may disagree with him or her. In this way, we recognize that even though we may not agree with the stance of another person, we believe in their right to disagree and hold an opinion of thought different from ours; and although some rights may be qualified and limited in the quest to secure observance of other competing rights, the central idea is the same that lies behind all great teachings be it religious or spiritual or political or social or legal… to create and promote a more civilized society where human beings do not resort to violence and abuse to settle scores over anything and everything that enrages them. Sadly, however, despite all these socio-legal advancements and ‘human rights laws’, and despite all the religious and spiritual calls for tolerance, peace and brotherhood, the fact of the matter is that the world is increasingly becoming more and more violent, more and more intolerant and more and more overpowered by its ‘nafs’.
But how is this even happening? How are the efforts of for instance, United Nations since 1948 vis a vis human rights still largely only aspirational? How is it that it is so usual for people to still discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, gender, religion, ethnicity and race? While there are many answers and contributing factors to that, I am particularly intrigued by the co-relation that advancement in communication and technology and the advent of social media has with bringing out our inner demons and vices on a massive scale. Just to clarify, I am in no way against such advancements or social media per se; what I am saying is that these mediums have been deployed by humans in a deconstructive manner and as with everything else, they have ended up ruining this too.
What in fact has happened is that on the one hand, advancement in communication and technology has inter-linked and inter-connected the world in an unprecedented manner and on the other hand, has made it so possible for anyone to randomly and remotely pull the strings and put on a show or point fingers at anyone and much worse, troll anyone or abuse and harass anyone through and from a remote location. This geographical distance that virtual reality has bridged makes internet and online forums an exceptionally plausible tool to victimize anybody anywhere. It is noteworthy that steps in the direction to curb this increasing phenomenon through cyber laws is under way however, such laws themselves remain subject to controversies inherent in the dichotomy between competing human rights i.e. freedom vs security.
Many instances of cyber abuse have come to fore in recent years and have had an impact that goes well beyond cyber space to a point where it becomes our ugly reality. What happened with Qandeel Baloch and Mashal Khan are testimony of the dangers that social media can have on our lives. Even in lesser extreme instances, I have seen people being trolled and shammed for issues like putting on more weight or having had their hair cut! It’s almost like social media has elongated the tongues of haters and trollers who cannot seem to stop themselves from commenting/abusing other people. What makes them so fearless? What enables them to be so boisterous on social media? Would they be as open and direct with their abuse and shamming if they would be face-to-face with their victim? If not? Why cannot they control themselves online and conduct themselves in a manner that is befitting for online social community? And finally, what makes the online social community less self-regulatory than the offline? The answer lies in one word: accountability.
In the offline world, there can be and often are immediate repercussions of our actions and social manners are taught by parents and teachers to all children from very early stages of their lives. This fear of repercussions of our actions, be it peer pressure or legal sanction, is what enables us to self-regulate ourselves and our actions and we are more careful in our interactions and dealings with others. We may still think that so and so has put so much weight and that their hair cut is totally uncool, but in the offline world the possibility of us walking up to them and saying it on their face or ‘writing it on their wall’ is highly unlikely. The reverse is true if the same is to be said on twitter for instance.
Could it be that social media has made people more able to bring out their inner demons and vices, their racism and hatred that although was inherent in them, but which has now found a new channel through which to project itself? If so, does this thought merit and justify the regulation of social media so as to make it a more accountable forum? I say, if done right, yes! However, what we need more is to educate the users about acceptable standards of social media behavior just like we train our children the acceptable standards of behavior applicable in their offline communities. Education and realization that our actions in the online space are just as susceptible to social accountability if not legal is a very important pre-requisite in making online and offline spaces safe for everyone. It is easier to control ourselves when the repercussions of our actions are in front of us in the offline world. The real challenge however is to have the integrity to conduct ourselves equally responsibly when the repercussions may appear to be remote, as in the online world. I hope this world can live to see the day that human beings resort to nurturing it as opposed to ruining it. Good luck to all those trying and kudos for not giving up!
The writer is the founder of Lahore Education and Research Network and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org