I am not going to try to start this by explaining what social media is, there is plenty of it on the internet. But what I would like to focus on the ironic paradoxes we hold about privacy in the later paragraphs.
Bhutan has had no study on social networking sites but it may have 33,340 Facebook users, age 18 and above who live in Bhutan according to Facebook statistics and a Google search leads one to a number up to 37,180 Facebook users from Bhutan, which equals to 74 percent of internet users in Bhutan via kuensel.
Day 1 of the 1st conference on social media in Bhutan (capital Thimphu) organized by the Bhutan Centre for Media & Democracy (BCMD) ended with each participant creating accounts on ‘Facebook’ and ‘twitter’ social networking sites. The conference saw presentations on social media and experiences by the two resources persons & students followed by question & answer.
Candid account of experiences gave participants enough reasons to get worried about the ‘negative’ impact social media may have for our young ones. Instances shared during the conference ended with ‘cousins’ being embarrassed on meeting for date. In another one we learnt of a much older woman talking to a young boy as a result of interaction on social media. These are not bad in themselves but one is easily reminded of how vulnerable our young ones can be in being tricked into doing things they may not understand at that moment. This may sound a little far-fetched but there have been instances of adults using social networking sites to lure victims (children). Add to that peer pressure of increasing ‘friends’ on social networking sites, our children have as ‘friends’ complete strangers with sometimes no way for them to know if these are genuinely good people, making them sitting ducks. This is not limited to children, it’s quite visible even with young girls. What may have started out as remaining in touch with real friends and making new friends soon turns into a race for increasing friends or sometimes even ‘flirting’ as some mentioned at the discussion. These are worrying signs and unless we address it, our worries about our children will only multiply. It’s just gotten so much easier now to connect. Ofcourse I am not contesting the benefits social networking sites and social media as a whole may bring to society and particularly to our young ones, but it is critical to understand and be aware of the downsides too.
Social media education, I feel, has become more crucial than ever. Mobile phones and phones with internet connectivity makes it even more crucial. Young children these days carry a host of gadgets that are all increasingly moving towards the internet platform, as simple as mobile phones and video game gadgets. How they balance time is anther pivotal issue in addition to privacy risks. Parents and guardians need to be sensitized on it to make sure there are proper guidance. Educating our young ones is vital and efforts have begun which is good to know with the first media literacy event organized an earlier this year.
Most people get very suspicious when one starts to talk about privacy and rightly so. Risking personal information is not a simple matter and it is understandable. My focus in here is on social networking sites and when most of us are ‘Facebooking’ or ‘tweeting’ how little we maybe thinking about the kind of information we may be sharing with so many people. In addition to the online information on the site, when our ‘Facebook status’ and ‘tweet’ send out messages about what we are doing or where we maybe (GPS location facility) these are also important information, not always risk-free. It is amazing what I learnt about something called Please Rob Me; opportunists could actually use such information to look up opportunities to rob your house or you office or even you. Additionally there are other risks and it is important as we try to understand social media and it’s emerging role in our own context we learn from experiences of others – embrace the benefits and lower the risks associated.
Mainstream media did stories about online games ‘virtual entrapment’ bringing to the fore questions about time management in offices; risks for our young ones ‘Not quite kid’s stuff’. These are questions we still need to find answers to. For society to accept social media as another means of communication just like letters and phones, it is important we engage ourselves in more discussions. The discussions on ‘Facebook’, ‘twitter’ and ‘blogsphere’ on tobacco legislation may just see that unfold. Irrespective of how the tobacco issue turns out, social media would have gained recognition as a platform, as a many-to-many communication platform.
Benefits of social media still continues to emerge but to be fair and not sound biased, with all these risks, social media still offers a wonderful opportunity to Bhutan too. So in playing the role of the devil’s advocate in reminding everyone the risks associated with it, the benefits may need to be noted to take advantage of it even as we make huge investments in the ICT infrastructure.
I hope we can discuss it more so that we may all benefit out of this wonderful opportunity to communicate better and SMARTER!