LIFE MATTERS: Social Media: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

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By Dr. Dennis Acop

There was a time when the speed of communication that we enjoy today (and take for granted) would have been considered nothing short of a miracle! And yet that is exactly what we have today with social media through the internet. This article will merely focus on social media for brevity. The miracle that is social media continues to impact the lives of people all over the world in ways that, for lack of a better term, are good, bad, and ugly. First, the good offsprings of social media are those that share facts, connect people, promote virtue and the common good, market good stuff, and make the world a better place. Second, the bad offsprings can be said to be those that share falsehoods like fake news, attack and disunite people, advance vice and selfish agenda, sell bad stuff, and make the planet a more dangerous space. And third, ugly offsprings are those that have nothing social about them and perhaps need not be but are made public anyway. They offend decency and serve no worthy purpose other than the whim of the author.

Let us begin with the good. Firstly, people appreciate it when others share something that is factual and helpful in some way. For instance, the information shared by travelers who have experienced a place and the conditions obtaining therein is appreciated by others intending to do the same. Although one can simply google a place, there is added value to information actually experienced by someone who is not a stranger. And validated by known others as well as by the reader himself. Factual information is all over social media. One only has to practice due diligence and be with an open but discerning mind.

Secondly, never has there been a time when people can connect with other people in just a press of a finger or within seconds. Social media is awesome in its ability to locate just about anyone through time as the world becomes connected by necessity. Family members are able to reach other relatives and friends wherever they are. People with similar backgrounds, needs, and wants are able to get together quite easily through numerous associations flourishing through social media cyberspace. Even work and professional connections are facilitated. The current pandemic has given added significance to social media as people everywhere could not congregate. For instance, even worship has to be done now largely through cyberspace. So is education and the general conduct of the business of any kind.

Thirdly, the promotion of virtue and the common good is one great thing about social media. Selfless deeds in service to others shared through the media bring out the best in people and make all of us not lose faith in the goodness of humanity. Even more so, they help us find ourselves encouraging us to do the same. The pain and suffering of others are made aware to us prompting some of us to do something for the underprivileged and marginalized in our societies. I have come across park benches in Australia and the US where names of persons who paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country or those who loved and gave much are lovingly memorialized. I have read accounts of many selfless unknowns who did the harder right than the easier wrong in their lifetimes. Shared by people who knew. We come to know of fellow human beings who have walked the less traveled road despite the overwhelming allures of the commonly taken paths. The word of God is shared helping others to grow spiritually. Mechanisms for helping those in need are made known. And just the openness of easy and fast communication works towards the uplifting of sagging spirits through the unending challenges of life.

Fourthly, we come to know of goods and services that are useful to us through social media among others. It is up to us of course to exercise our free will in choosing the quality and quantity of the consumption items we buy. This has become critical in this day and age where social media has replaced traditional methods of provision due to its competitive ease. The comparative advantage of social media in the marketing sphere has been made more pronounced by the current pandemic which has practically demanded online purchasing and delivery as the commerce of choice.

And fifth, social media has significant power and potential to make the world a better place. As we already know, knowledge is power and communication is key. Add to these the multiplying effect of hyper-speed communication reaching an unlimited amount of audiences and one can quickly realize the positive impact of social media if used to build up humanity than destroy it. Essentially implied is the assumed commitment of all users to the basic principle of all social communication: adherence to truth. For if non-truth was the core of any discourse, then it necessarily follows that there is no effective or mutually beneficial communication. There is only unilateral communication which is no communication at all.

This leads us to social media’s second set of offsprings: the baddies. First among the sub-sets are the deliberate spreading of falsehoods like fake news. Technically, falsehoods include the half-truths or spins wherein lies are intricately woven unto the delicate fabric of facts to turn them into some narrative which they are not. The hyper-speed of cyberspace may have facilitated a lot of things but the haste has also put into the hands of mere mortals so much power for their own good. Gone are the days of professional editors and functional ethics where the fact was separated from fiction and narratives were keenly screened for effective delivery. Nowadays, each one with a smartphone can publish his own narrative, true or not. Add to this the immense damage that could be created if it were an entire organization or institution pursuing such. Even the objective of such machination can be rendered irrelevant by the sheer twisting of facts which already loses the point behind any communication. But of course, there are always individuals or groups sinister enough to manipulate narratives for vested interests devoid of any ethics. And that is why they are baddies. We see lots of examples today for instance in the politics-crazed who wittingly or unwittingly echo half-narratives in support of their candidate. We can see it in those who live in societies with a strong patronage culture when they parrot the narratives of an adored leader losing all objectivity. We even see it in some with enough insanity to inflict weird humor by their penchant for spreading sensational crime stories with no basis in fact just to get off.

Secondly, the baddies in social media like to use the platform to attack and disunite people which is a very unfortunate thing. Civility is called for in any human interaction including social media. It is meant to unite people even in disagreement. Humanity demands respect for people. Social media friends or not, no one has any right to demean anyone, asking for a fight. Often, it is not just the post or comment that offends but the tone of it. Given our differences, the only rule is to agree to disagree. When someone disagrees with us, the only thing we can and should do is to courteously respect that person’s position and then move on. Same with that person. There is absolutely no need to fight online just to show who has the greater ego. That is why, for the life of me, I cannot understand how some folks get so riled up online and never quit until they get the final word. Oftentimes, I just say my piece and then move on. If I see that one is itching for a fight, sometimes I say to myself that silence is itself an appropriate response. I would rather keep that person’s friendship than get into a petty and useless cyber fight. I admit (being human) there were occasional times before when I also managed to get myself into a cyber fight but I have since learned my lesson: Never get into one. Not worth it.

Thirdly, baddies advance vice and selfish agenda through social media. It may not be obvious to those who do not navigate the dark sites but LO and behold, vice, crime, and predatory strategies and tactics abound in the media. Cybersecurity laws have much improved over the years but the very nature of cybercrime makes it doubly challenging to prosecute. The cloud and privacy laws make it almost impossible for law enforcement to prosecute suspects with empirical evidence needed to make the charges stick. I saw this from my experience in corporate security. For the prosecution of cybercriminals to be effective, the pillars of the criminal justice system still need to come together as in physical prosecution. It is a tedious process but one that must be pursued with due diligence and competence. The community must alert the authorities and courageously file charges if warranted. With a formal complaint filed before it, law enforcement has no excuse but to act on the case. It works with the Prosecution to advance the case to court. With promising evidence, the case goes to trial. The security world today acknowledges the fact that cybersecurity is now the preeminent sphere where the biggest threats lie, both in private security and national security.

Fourthly, baddies sell bad stuff through social media. If there are the ethical industries, there are likewise the unethical ones. The latter merely parallels the former and manifests itself in unethical products and services like counterfeit items, pornography, terrorism, and or occultism, among others. Illegal items also find their way through the intricate networks of social media often disguised in their own signs, symbols, and coded language. Not to mention the hacking that occurs to advance espionage attacking corporate as well as national security secrets. The threats from baddie suppliers make me wish security was a part of school curricula if only to protect our young and innocent.

And fifth, baddies use social media to make the world a more dangerous place. Today, we commonly hear of powerful nations suspected of hacking through cyberspace and manipulating social media to advance their respective national interests. Nothing really wrong with governments advancing their interests. But there is something wrong when doing so endangers world peace. China, for instance, has long ignored the Provisions in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) respecting every nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It has done so and continues to do so despite its being a signatory to the UNCLOS. Thus, the South China Sea has been a flashpoint for potential conflict as China claims territories there held by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and Taiwan. China has unilaterally claimed the South China Sea as part of its territory brandishing its Nine-Dash Line claim. And it has used every media and forum to advance its claim, legally or illegally. Including cyberspace and social media. A most glaring case in point. Finally, there is also the ugly in social media. The best way to point them out is by merely citing real-life examples. For instance, we see the posting of graphics that are gory with no redeeming narrative except to make people sick. There are posts that are better kept private. In general, we refer to posts that have a negative vibe to them. It is good that social media platforms have their administrators and follow best practice standards. Still, we sometimes see posts that seem devoid of any positive social content. Due to volume, some may get through the cracks. It is indeed such a daunting task to police every user in the planet. And every person is unique with his own peculiarities, experience, and belief. Still, there is just that minimum level of decency that most of us would like to see. In a social context. Without feeling violated. There, I’ve said my piece. What’s yours?

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