Two Faces of Social Networking

Twitter saved lives in the tragic moments after the Mumbai blasts last month and Facebook gave a platform to the Egypt-Libya uprisings. Blackberry Messengers seems to have dimmed the spotlight on the capacity and reach of social networking when it was used to induce violence and mindless looting in the Britain riots over the past few days.

Social networking was on an all time high when it managed to give hope and facilitate rescue operations in moments when cell phone networks collapsed and lives were at stake. Through constant tweets – survivors in Mumbai let others know of their whereabouts, circulated information regarding rescue operations. Re-tweeting saved another handful of lives, friends and family were united. While in the case of Egypt uprisings, Facebook gave the scope of a page that the world supported and ‘liked’. The hash-tags and the constant live-blogs kept the world updated on events when the media could not reach the spots.

Arab Spring-Egypt
Demonstrators gather in Tahrir Square on May 27, 2011 in Cairo during The Arab Spring (Getty Image)

After the success of the Egypt-Libya uprisings – the world was all aglow with Facebook praise. Social networking had brought about a social revolution. People from all over the world united on the medium to fight for what was right, support it, make information about it available so as everyone, everywhere would know.

But, social networking reared its ugly head at the London riots. The free Blackberry messenger allowed rioters to propagate violence throughout the streets. London burned for three whole days, accumulating a loss in millions and lives lost. With – ‘Justice for Mark Duggan’ as a perfect guise, looting, plundering and destruction of public property became rampant on the British streets. The revolution that the rioters seemed to be calling for — the call for justice was nothing more than a free chance to break in to department stores, set cars on fire and rob others.

Fire rages through a building in Tottenham, north London, as trouble flared after members of the community took to the streets to protest over the police shooting of local man Mark Duggan (Image: Lewis Whyld/PA)

So on one hand we have the boon of being able to connect with the world with the click of a tab and on the other we had the ticking bomb that could disrupt lives with one easy published post. Just as Facebook gave direction to the support for a revolution for Egypt — it gave Justice for Mark Duggan a path too. The path was one of violent riots and uncontrollable looting. The same social commentators who patted Facebook on the back and spoke about the shining good of the social networking mediums — now raged about the evil that it had come to be. It was no longer the shinning badge on the collar. On one had people use Twitter to circulate information in seconds, the same hash-tags become instruction sites for terror.

The same sites that allowed groups for communal harmony, also allowed groups that fostered communal hate. It is a free domain – and there are no rules on content. But, the society, the governments, the industry will have to take steps to curb the spread of hate messages, fake news without compromising the right to freedom of speech of the netizens. With rights, come duties; with freedom, comes virtue.

Human freedoms require as counterparts, human virtues or controls. To think in terms of freedoms without corresponding virtues would lead to a lopsided view of life and a stagnation or even a deterioration of personality, and also to chaos and conflict in society. This two-sidedness of human life, its freedoms and virtues or controls, its assurances and possessions must be understood and established in any scheme for the welfare of man, society and humanity. Alone, the right to life, liberty and property or pursuit of happiness is not sufficient; neither, alone, is the assurance of liberty, equality and fraternity. Human freedoms and virtues must be more definite and more comprehensive if they are to help the physical, mental and spiritual development of man and humanity.

Shrikrishna Venkatesh Puntambekar, UNESCO, May 1947

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