The impact of Social Media- Promoting inclusivity or widening the gap?

By Maanyaa Gupta

2nd Runner Up of Diversity Essay Scholarship

Social media has brought the world closer by democratizing debates and enabling the exchange of ideas across borders. But this veneer of a seamless social media world has also caused an exponential rise in fake news, hate crimes, propaganda, and brazenly derogatory content. Indeed, our modern-day use of information technologies is not just about the content that is accessed and exchanged but also about the broader influences these technologies have on our society.

The advent of social media is transforming how people connect and how information is shared and distributed. In this way Social media is robbing us of the trust and comfort we once placed in one another, replacing the human fellowship, and physical and emotional support we once used to draw from each other. It robs us of self-control and the ability to think independently and instead makes us gullible to join any group that posts contradictory messages that tickle our ears and amuse our senses without evaluating the consequences. Ironically, social media is in effect turning us into one of the most antisocial generations. Thereby, widening the gap between all of its stakeholders.

Working behind thick walls of secrecy, tech behemoths function with arbitrary policies acting not only as platforms for idea exchange but also censors. Their algorithms can be tweaked to play up a certain kind of content and downplay other forms of it. These platforms have a control over the information being distributed online and think they alone can decide what acceptable content is. This selective censorship leads to unequal controls between various citizens. A much recent case has been the origin of coronavirus. Social media platforms, Twitter included, muzzled the discussions around the possibility of a lab leak, something that is being considered now. Then there was this news of the twitter account of former President of America being deactivated. Thus, limiting his right to free speech.

As a vibrant democracy, India has always welcomed social media giants to operate in the country. People use these platforms to question the government and that strengthens India’s democratic principles. So the problem is not with the use of social media. The misuse of this technology is what is leading to the threat of it being exclusive.

It is against this background that the Government of India decided to revise the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules 2011 with the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. This was notified on February 25, 2021 after wide-ranging consultation with all stakeholders.

The IT Rules aim to provide protection against objectionable photos which are often shared on such platforms and the reputation of people which is often sullied without even an iota of evidence against them. The “cancel” culture has gone too brutal these days that people are scared to come up and share their stories. The IT Rules aim to enable the identification of the first originator of the misinformation. In this way, fake news can be curbed and will eventually reduce the much-widened gap between facts and the people seeking them.

It is bewildering that these companies made no rules and never tried to work in tandem with law enforcement agencies to ensure their platforms are inclusive and that there are mechanisms to stop misuse. Surely with the advent of social media, information is shared with a larger number of people. But this spread is of no use if the news is mainly false leading to hatred, dilemma, and the loss of trust in journalism by the citizens.

Therefore, it can be concluded that if social media is not handled with a pragmatic approach, it can lead to a much wider gap between democracy and the citizens. At the same time, it would be incorrect to assert that social media is generally negative, as it provides several benefits to everyone's lives. Too much dependence on anything in life is sure to have a negative effect, which is why we should restrict our usage of social media and be mindful of its potential negative consequences.