Perils in social media

June 5, 2022 Ignacio "Toting" Bunye 95 views

Ignacio BunyeWe live in rapidly changing times, thanks to the technological wonders of internet and social media. As fast as we can click and send, we can broadcast messages to friends, relatives and to just about anybody, anywhere in the world. This despite the fact that Philippines remains the slowest and most expensive – in terms of connectivity – in this part of the world.

In homes, schools, communities, and just about any place where one has access to a computer, an iPod, or a smart phone, every Juan and Maria of practically all ages are sending and receiving messages via Facebook, twitter, instagram, viber, private messenger and what have you.

Social media has become a very powerful tool for communication. And here is where Uncle Ben’s advice to Spider-Man should always be top-of-mind: With great power comes great responsibility.

This message has been re-echoed by Pope Francis. While acknowledging that “the internet, text messages, social networks and chats are ‘a gift from God” as they can be “fully human forms of communication” the Pontiff cautions that we must “use wisely the means at our disposal”.

The papal caveat arises from the very nature of the technology available. Messages – true or not – have the potential of going viral in minutes , if not in seconds. “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of expression,” Pope Francis said.

Social media has become a two-edged blade. On the one hand, it can be used to inform and raise awareness. But it can also be weaponized for spreading alternative truths, revising history, for maligning, defrauding and harming. Social media has given rise to armies of paid trolls who disrupt/ disturb discussions, bash personalities or just simply annoy others.

Wittingly or unwittingly, careless social media participants give out personal information which can expose them to identity theft, financial scams, blackmail, sexual exploitation and security threats.

Because of the foregoing, do we need to give up Facebook and Twitter? Not at all. As long as we do not become mindless. And also for as long as we follow the common-sense advice of practising responsibility in the web: Think before you tweet. Think some more before you re-tweet, share or forward any message.

The search for truth

Everyone agrees that we have to search for truth. Everyone agrees that the truth will set us free.

But how do we go about searching for truth?

Sadly, we often start with a pre-conceived notion of the truth based on limited and often distorted information fed to us.

I am reminded of the story of the four blind men and the elephant. I have heard several versions of the story but most versions agree on the following details.

The story goes that one day the four blind men heard that a circus was in town.

Not having “seen” an elephant, the four asked the kind animal trainer to allow them to touch one of the elephants, to which the elephant trainer agreed.

The first blind man touched the ear of the elephant and immediately concluded that the elephant was like a giant fan. The second touched the tail and he proclaimed that the elephant was like a snake. Having touched, the hind leg of the elephant, the third blind man was ecstatic when he announced to one and all that the elephant is like a wall. The last one, who touched the tip of the elephant’s tusk, vehemently disagreed. “You are all wrong,” he said. “The elephant is like a spear.”

In all likelihood, the four never stopped arguing after that encounter with the elephant because of the partial information they individually received.