With the age of hashtags dawning upon us, generation Z has been born in an age of technology where connecting with friends, being updated on current happenings especially paparazzi gossips, weddings, and holiday destinations have become an inseparable part of our daily routines. Before getting out of our beds, we open our eyes every morning going through WhatsApp chats and aimlessly scrolling through Instagram feeds, and rarely go to sleep at night without straining our eyes in front of the ‘dim lit’ screens.
Social media has created a parallel world where everything happening in real or on reel seems to be affecting us both physically and emotionally. For some of us, it’s a place to stay cool and sassy while for others it’s a circus full of drama and fakeness. But whatsoever it may be, we would all at least agree that it’s a happy place to be in, and through these tough times, it has been our one and only constant company!
Our lives have been so deeply entrenched in this virtual world that it has now become equivalent to our daily businesses and to ‘take a break’ from it we are now resorting to yoga, meditation, and hiking. (But be careful it is necessary to first post #detox or #goingoffline or #wandererlife otherwise it would be considered that either you are dead or have been kidnapped. Being online now and then is a routine drill).
By now we all know the pros and cons of social media. We are aware of how much of it to use, how to use and when to restrict it. We are also made aware of issues like cyberbullying, cyber attacks, and phishing by the administration. So what difference will this article make in which we will be reiterating about social media?
Amidst a pandemic, technology and social platforms have come to peoples’ rescue. Where the government machinery failed in catching up too little, too late, India’s youth came forward harnessing the power of social media to enable their fellow countrymen to access critical healthcare equipment and sail through these difficult times.
Who knew that sharing posts, uploading videos or stories could act as a first-hand resource group in fighting the virus. In these pressing moments when we cannot see each other or personally take care, we have extended our help virtually. Volunteers across the country have come together and have been working round the clock to post and update accurate information.
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With the prevalence of social platforms in our lives, sting operations and investigative journalism have got new avenues of reporting. Earlier certain events could be easily muffled by governments and forcefully removed from sight, however now whistleblowers don’t have to depend on any media agencies to reveal the truth. Just as detective Byomkesh Bakshi, everyone today wants to be ‘The Truth Seeker, and social media has facilitated this journalism earnestly.
This has also become a way to motivate those who generally don’t get covered by mainstream media. While in the olden days only historians, storytellers, and writers made accounts of plagues and wars, today the tool to express ourselves is available to everyone. We are all creating memoirs of our happy times and stories of the hardships by penning down our views freely through blogs, articles, posts, poems, etc. Also unlike those times where we lost account of oral histories and perishable texts, today whatever happens on the internet, stays within it eternally.
Having been confined to our homes and closed spaces many of us are now grappling with stress, anxiety, frustration, and sadness. The pandemic has done more harm to our mental well-being than just physically affecting our health. To address these issues, many online seminars by distinguished scholars and tips by psychologists are being provided for help. Apart from these, if we all just connect through social media and ask our close ones simply if they ‘are doing okay!’ might work as a placebo more than any other therapy.
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In this digital age, infodemic spreads like wildfire. It creates a breeding ground for uncertainty. Uncertainty in turn fuels scepticism and distrust, which is the perfect environment for fear, anxiety, finger-pointing, stigmatization, violent aggression, and dismissal of proven public health measures — which can lead to loss of life.
With the unfolding of COVID-19, the same tools have also enabled and amplified the current situation which continues to undermine the global response and jeopardizes measures to control the pandemic.
We often receive absurd messages like- girls must avoid getting vaccinated while on their menses, 5G mobile networks spread COVID-19, people drinking alcohol will not have COVID, and so on. Interestingly, most of us without even thinking, either react instantly to it or start circulating these messages. These factoids are a big threat as they create panic and confusion.
Early reportage of the pandemic in India generalised some sections of the population as wilful carriers of COVID-19. This biased coverage began after a religious gathering turned out to be a super-spreader event. Soon after, demeaning hashtags started trending on social media, in effect labelling a particular religious community as a collective danger to health and society. These hateful narratives have been successfully fostered within society’s digital communities.
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Thus, social media platforms may have democratised the internet, but the same technology has created conflicts by enabling the proliferation of erroneous information at an unprecedented pace. In a 2017 study of the US, a team from MIT found that fake news spread, “farther, faster, and deeper” on these platforms.
Currently, online campaigns regarding sensitisation towards vaccines, plasma donation, and bursting general myths created by ‘public physicians’ or ‘self-claimed doctors’ are going viral. The younger population needs to read the information carefully and understand all aspects of the issue before sharing any news blindly. There is also a need to sensitise the older generation in not sharing anything which is not authentic.
Changing their opinions might take time, but affiliating oneself with a side of the debate doesn’t mean that it has to be the ultimate truth. Finally, in this time of infomedic, it will be in our favour to not act naive and ignorant while using social media. So in these trying times let us also keep our virtual space clean and safe (safai bhi, kadai bhi, dawai bhi) for everyone as this is our alternate life and ultimate reality.