The popularity and uses of different social media platforms have been increasing at a meteoric pace all over the world. Expanding internet coverage, faster internet connection, rising affordability of smartphones, and increased purchasing power are facilitating the people of Bangladesh as well to join the prolonging virtual chain. A consistent rise in the total number of internet and smartphone users in the country attests to the fact.
Presumably, the leading names in the list of social media with maximum traffic are Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. But the recent growth of short video platforms such as Likee and Triller has not gone beyond our attention either. But how this alteration will create an impact in the coming days – might be subject to extended discussions that require a bias-free approach and better degrees of social acceptance.
We have to primarily acknowledge the fact that a significant portion of our social media users are young. Naturally, they are more adaptive to changing times and evolving trends. They are often the first to adopt new social media platforms that offer fresher dimensions of self-expression. This natural tendency has both positive and negative consequences. What we tend to forget is whether the goodwill outweighs the bad – will solely depend on how the platform is utilised by the users, rather than on the platform itself.
The rise of social media, in many ways, indicates the rise of technology. In contrast, the evolution of social media indicates the evolution of our use of technology to interact with the world around us. However, technology, by itself, does not determine whether it is good or bad. Instead, our awareness and intentions regarding the means of technology determine whether it is a magic lamp or a pandora's box.
Recent news focusing on the negative influence of social media, especially on the lifestyle of a certain section of the youth, has raised concerns over whether certain short video platforms should be banned. It will be a mistake for us to let our premeditations shape our future because stigmas, stereotypes, and lack of openness have been keeping us in the backfoot as a nation for many years already. It was not very long ago that a large number of people, especially from the older generation, were skeptical about Facebook. Facebook had also been temporarily banned in Bangladesh at one point. And now it has become an almost inevitable part of our lives, be that for personal or professional causes.
Blocking one application can barely halt any potential decay because, with the changing times, the digital universe is only seeing broader expansions. If we block one social media platform today, another will pop up tomorrow. Efforts of rotating the broken pieces will last forever without meeting our desired end to complete the puzzle. The explication lies not in banning one social media platform after another but in educating ourselves and our youth on the proper use of these platforms.
Short video apps allow almost any individual to upload mini clips of their visual performances and share them with their followers and peers. When a user gains a large or comparatively significant number of followers, they gradually start to gain attention as an 'influencer.' When content targeted at a particular group promoting specific behavior patterns are circulated largely through sharing, it tends to create a ripple effect. Promoting the popular habit of 'following,' otherwise considered 'jumping the bandwagon,' is why many criticise the short video apps.
We must notice and regulate the virtual sphere around us since crime and social deterioration has indeed increased due to the added virtual access in our lives. But we must also evaluate every last bit of the 'new-era' means of digital communication because this change is inevitable. We need to teach ourselves and our children about the constructive modality of communication and self-expression, and at the same time, raise awareness on the dangers lurking around the corner. The guidance will have to start at the core – our homes. When a family instills values in a child that influences behavior that is on parity with accepted and healthy social norms, it eventually means giving birth to an ideal citizen for the state.
The educational institutions must also teach the children the best ways to interact with society. The curricula must include mentorship regarding smart and responsible ways of using social media for safe and healthy entertainment and causes benevolence for society. Popular influencers must be very conscious about the lifestyles and stay responsible for the trends they promote on social media. They must realise that their actions have far greater implications on shaping social and cultural values than regular eyes meet.
Content regulation must be made compulsory to detect all illegal, perverted, and anti-social behavior and warn, ban or terminate the reported user accounts. When an all-inclusive regulation system is established, users with good principles will automatically create a rejuvenated ecosystem, where the promotion of talent and skills will gain whole new definitions. Such platforms can also initiate social-campaigns that raise a cause in society and can positively influence mass behavior. We need to look at the brighter side of the scenario to extract the most of what it offers, rather than setting back as frogs inside a well.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Women and Gender Studies, Dhaka University