Visitors: 0

Social Media Platforms - To be or not to be

black iphone 4 on brown wooden table

“To be, or not to be? that is the question,” a tormented Prince of Denmark asked in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Such dilemmas do not always have easy answers. Today, I, too am faced with a dilemma about a phenomenon called social media platforms. Do I want to be a part of them or avoid getting involved? Participating on certain social media platforms is like viewing “live” political debates on Indian TV news channels – those can get your blood boiling if you have strong political opinions. My friend, a cardiologist, often advises people with blood pressure problems to avoid watching such provocative TV debates!

My introduction to what is now called “social media” was in 2010 when I joined WhatsApp to stay in instant touch with my field staff across India since for checking mail, they would have to visit a cybercafé in that era! WhatsApp messaging was economical, convenient, unintrusive, quick, specific, direct, and one-to-one; with targeted groups, messages could be shared at low cost and instantly with a larger audience! As head of the marketing department at a pharmaceutical company, I would use WhatsApp Groups for sharing company circulars and bonus offer deals with field staff and dealers across India! Gradually, WhatsApp lost out to more glamorous apps like Facebook, Instagram, etc, though in India it continues to be a widely used and preferred social media application. The evolution of digital technology saw the birth of many more social media platforms like Orkut (now probably defunct), Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc to name a few. Somehow, I did not get attracted to any of these – my communication needs were met mostly through emails (particularly after emails could be accessed on phones) and, WhatsApp (for brief text messages, images, and short videos). A few months back, however, I had a rude awakening that made me acknowledge the power and scope of social media.

My wife and I were booked for Jammu to participate in a family event in December 2020. COVID-19 fears had reduced somewhat and we succumbed to family pressures for travel. Unfortunately, my wife developed a fever three days prior to our travel date and our doctor advised us against travel. I canceled our roundtrip air tickets via mail and over the phone. Our ‘Vadodara to Jammu’ air tickets received an immediate and almost full refund from a friendly private airline after I shared my wife’s medical prescription information over WhatsApp. Our return tickets were with Air India and there was no response to my refund request, multiple reminders notwithstanding. I kept following up for one month through emails and phone calls to customer care, the cancellation department, and other contact numbers /addresses provided on the Air India website. Customer care representatives, as and when I was able to get through to them, sounded sympathetic, assuring me that they were escalating my request with immediate effect. There was no result, however. My son, sensing my frustration, advised me to approach Air India through their Twitter handle. Very gingerly, I downloaded the Twitter app on my mobile and tagged Air India and the Civil Aviation Minister with my complaint, providing the details of my experience. I repeated my tweet twice within the next week and, bingo! – a tweet from Air India was received that my refund was being initiated. I received a phone call from a senior ranking Air India officer, apologizing for the delay since “no money is available for refund”! I received a small refund but at least there was a response.

This episode encouraged me to explore Twitter further– I saw tweets from the Indian Prime Minister, various other ministers, celebrities, and well-known people; responses and tweets from common, everyday people were in abundance. I also realized that Ministers and Officers, who normally do not respond to traditional communication modes (letters, emails, phone calls, etc) definitely react to messages on Twitter, it is an open public platform! Political mudslinging, including personal attacks, was the most common visible content on Twitter. I started following a few people and also sharing my opinion in response to some tweets. Soon, I too found people responding to some of my comments too. To my shock, several of the responses were irrelevant, rude, hateful, biased, very polarising, and skewed in opinion/ views, even personal attacks. I immediately stopped interacting and responding – but continued to read the type of opinions being expressed on Twitter. This continued for another few days till I decided “Runglee Rungliot” – meaning “thus far and no more” in the language of a Buddhist Lama! That was the end of my tryst with Twitter.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, social media is defined as “forms of electronic communication (such as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content (such as videos).” In a sense, social media began on May 24, 1844, with a series of electronic dots and dashes tapped out by hand on a telegraph machine. The first electronic message from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., proved Samuel Morse understood the historic ramifications of his scientific achievement: “What hath God wrought?” he wrote. The evolution of social media has been fuelled by the human impulse to communicate and by advances in digital technology. It is a story about establishing and nurturing personal connections at a scale unimaginable a few years ago.

The origins of today’s Internet and social media can be traced to the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network — the ARPANET launched in 1969 by the United States Department of Defence. It allowed scientists at four interconnected universities to share software, hardware, and other data. In 1987, the direct precursor to today’s Internet came into being when the National Science Foundation (USA) launched a more robust, nationwide digital network known as the NSFNET. A decade later, in 1997, the first true social media platform was launched. As the technology evolved, it led to Internet-enabled digital communication through email, bulletin board messaging, and real-time online chatting. At the turn of century, blogging gained popularity.

At first, social media evolved to help end users connect digitally with friends, colleagues, family members, and like-minded individuals who might never have met in person, without leaving one’s house. The advent of smartphones liberated social media from the desktop/laptop. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media services thrived in the mobile app environment. Technological evolution — specifically, powerful in-phone cameras — shifted the focus of mobile apps to video and images. In addition to written messages, end users could now broadcast in real-time.

Technology and social media platforms have brought the world right into our pockets – you can get both news and views from that mobile in your pocket! They have opened huge avenues for ordinary, everyday people to express themselves. In a way, these have ‘liberated’ people who were not used to expressing themselves or did not have the means to do so! People, including homebound ones, are showcasing their hobbies and skills in cooking, singing, gardening, home-décor, fashion, fitness, segment knowledge (astrology to history and politics), and almost every topic under the sun! Food and travel videos are another popular engagement as are what are termed vlogs, including highlighting food specialties of given locations! A friend of mine is an avid watcher of a video blog showing two friends traveling from place to place and highlighting local food and other facilities! Another person I know has started putting her singing videos online – something unimaginable a couple of decades back! People have learned to make money out of such platforms, besides gaining popularity or even celebrityhood! There are people with a number of subscribers/ followers running into 6-7 digits. People are experimenting and learning new skills from such ‘online’ mentors!

Social media’s evolution provided measurement tools that have given marketing professionals unprecedented access to valuable, actionable data about consumers’ demographics, buying habits, preferences, etc. Users don’t just log in and browse, they tell the platforms their name, location, likes/dislikes/ preferences, and who they know, painting the most vivid picture currently possible for marketers looking to target specific consumers. Facebook began to place ads on its platform as early as 2006. Twitter enabled ads in 2010. LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and TikTok all have attempted to monetize their services through various forms of sponsored advertising. The combination of advertising paid social media marketing, and organic social media outreach evolved into the digital marketing specialty known as Social Media Marketing. In less than a generation, social media has evolved from a means of direct electronic information exchange to a virtual gathering place, to a retail platform, and now, to a vital 21st-century marketing tool.

As of date, the outreach and influence of social media platforms have reached mind-boggling proportions. A bird’s eye view of SMP followers/ users’ data is enlightening:

SNo. Social Media App Owned By Launched Followers/Users
1 Facebook (now Meta) Mark Zuckerberg Feb-04 2.74 billion
2 YouTube Google LLC Feb-05 2.3 billion
3 WhatsApp Mark Zuckerberg Feb-09 2.0 billion
4 Facebook Messanger Mark Zuckerberg Aug-11 1.30 billion
5 Instagram Mark Zuckerberg Oct-10 1.23 billion
6 WeChat (Chinese) Tencent Holdings Jan-11 1.20 billion
7 TikTok (International Version) Byte Dance (China) Sep-16 689 million
8 QQ (Chinese) Tencent Holdings Feb-99 617 million
9 Douyin (Chinese Tik Tok) Byte Dance (China) Sep-16 600 million
10 Sina Weibo (Chinese) Sina Corporation Aug-9 511 million
11 Telegram (ex-Russian) Nikolai & Pavel Durov Aug-13 500 million
12 Snapchat Snap Inc (US) Jul-11 498 million
13 Twitter Jack Dorsey Mar-6 206 million

Impressive numbers, indeed! To have so many dedicated and hooked customers has given these platforms unique powers -the power to market the user database and to influence users’ choices. Today’s social media landscape is populated by a suite of services that jockey for the attention of more than five billion mobile device users worldwide. The most efficient way to take advantage of social media’s popularity is to leverage existing audiences. To that end, digital marketers engage social media “influencers” to share messaging and product offers with their followers. In simpler terms, this could mean mind manipulation.

An avid ex-social media platform user recently told me that people have become fond of living what can be termed as ‘goldfish lives’ – always on public display! They love to share personal information including pictures of their home, travels, and dear ones – whatnot with “friends” and followers online. Your life becomes an open book as you want to or like to share almost everything about your life ‘online’. There have been instances where people have live-streamed unfortunate events like suicides. In their craze to make action videos for certain types of platforms, young lives have been lost, particularly while attempting dangerous acrobatic stunts. Are we becoming victims of exhibitionism? Is nothing sacrosanct anymore? A leading actor was taken seriously ill a few months back and out of nowhere, some irrelevant, idiotic user tagged his son to ask,” Now, how shall you eat- your father is in the hospital?” The idiot was implying that the father was more successful than the son, what would the son do for his day-to-day living? For God’s sake, who gave this person any kind of authority to ask such personal, irrelevant, rude, and intrusive questions? Just because you have a platform, does it give someone the right to use any kind of language, comment on anything under the sun, showcase his lack of manners and etiquette, spit in the air and watch it spread and fall on others? People create fake identities to befool others, particularly young girls. A new category of ‘trolls’ has evolved who demean, denigrate, and denounce people using foul language and vulgar expressions – instead of ignoring an opinion they do not agree with, they react vitriolically. In a recent case, Mumbai High Court had to legally restrain a Minister from making wild, unsubstantiated charges and claims on social media and in press conferences against an official against whom he has a personal grudge. There is no regulatory pressure or fear of any kind of legal retribution which makes people go berserk. In the name of freedom of speech and expression are we promoting lawlessness and bohemianism?

Another reason I have reservations about such social media platforms is the addiction they may cause. Some studies have found people spend as much as 30% of their time interacting via social media. Recent generations have grown up in a digital age with access to electronic gadgets from a very young age. Things that happen on social media or on the web are virtual and at times, the line between reality and fiction is very fine. But behind an embellished reality can hide a double-edged sword. Indeed, behind all that glamour, the images, including retouched selfies that produce the “wow” factor, reality can be very different. Some people fall into the ‘likes and followers’ trap and are willing to go to any extent to be on top. The term ‘selfitis’ has been coined for people who feel the need to post pictures of themselves online every few minutes. This disorder is being linked to a lack of self-esteem, narcissism, and even loneliness by psychologists. Perhaps, some social media platforms appeal to the dark side of human nature and the Duryodhana within us – we are aware of the possible harm yet compelled by its yin and yang! Social Media has also given rise to what is called the ‘Bandwagon Effect’ where people tend to follow the chain in a group, without applying their own minds. Recently, in a WhatsApp group, someone sent out a birthday greeting to a member and several others followed by extending good wishes. After a few hours, another message came in, informing the demise of the mother of another member. Immediately, condolence messages followed. One member who came online late combined the two messages into one but unfortunately mixed up the names. People who followed him just followed the chain – sharing wrong messages to both group members. This happened because nobody cared (or had the time) to check the source. Following the herd was easier.

The power to communicate quickly can have positive as well as negative results. You can inform your family and friends about an illness or some achievement in a jiffy! A person tweeted his difficulty with food availability on his train and Indian Railways responded with hot food at the next station! A few days back, someone shared a video showing an official in some Indian Embassy misbehaving with a citizen and the External Affairs Ministry responded, promising quick redressal. The government of India encouraged its citizens to take “selfies” of their COVID-19 vaccination and share them with their friends and family. Even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showcased his own COVID-19 vaccination. The move was a huge help in overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy in India. Movements like ‘Me Too’ got a big fillip due to social media. During COVID-19, people were able to work from home and even organize multi-location meetings, thanks to video-conferencing facilities. My grandson in Canada could recognize my thanks to the video calling apps. On the flip side, news, opinion, and images can be manipulated, planted, or doctored to create social unrest with all associated repercussions! Before one could even verify, such doctored ‘news’ would have already spread, causing immeasurable harm. False information, doctored images, and posts about some imaginary developments in Tripura caused rioting and arson in Amravati, Nanded, and Malegaon (Maharashtra) in November of 2021! So, the sword cuts both ways, and given the prominence of negative human traits and tendencies, the negative effects appear to be winning!

The society shall need to wake up fast to regulate these wild vipers before they rule the roost with devastating effects. The future of social media is limited only by the imagination of its stakeholders. The brief history of the industry has proven that the rapid change — advances in technology, more-strident financial demands, shifting cultural dynamics — will transform the current social media landscape. Human beings are social creatures. Commerce is driven by human interaction. These two facts will continue to shape the evolution of social media into the next decade and beyond. Like all advancements in science and technology, social media platforms have the potential for use as well as misuse. Cyberspace laws shall need to be brought in at the earliest to regulate but probably, self-regulation is the best remedy.

image image

image image



Jammu & Kashmir - History, Culture & Traditions | J&K Current Trends | Social Network | Health | Lifestyle | Human Resources | Analytics | Cosmetics | Cosmetology | Forms | Jobs

Related blogs

Quote of the Day

"Time Flies Over, but Leaves its Shadows Behind"