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Social Media & Impact

Welcome to the virtual world 

First there were men and women of letters. Now, theirz just peeps of Ittrz. Social media may be partially responsible for the dumbing down of humanity, the further facilitation of procrastination and the gradual expulsion of vowels, punctuation as well as the need to make any sense at all, but it is also a group of tools that has made life a lot easier for everyone who chooses to use them.

Where should we begin? I guess texts were the original social media tool. They were intended as short, impersonal, cheap ways of ... what? Flirting? I think that`s what they`ve always been used for the most. Because any usef`ul inf ormation that needs to be shared, can always be done better with a short call.

Sometimes texts take too long to come through, and you`ve been waiting half an hour for someone to `Come downstairs`, before they actually get the text. Or at least that`s the excuse they can have, which wouldn`t be possible if you had actually spoken to them. But somehow they just seem so .

.. convenient.

I`ve been party to extensive exchanges of texts myself, which l later realised achieved as much as a phone conversation under a minute could have. So, text? I say No. Not unless you can`t get through to someone on the phone, or if everything that has to be communicated can be done within two texts, max.

Oh, and there`s another thing about texts. They have a word limit. And the strange thing is that it`s been pretty much the same since Friedhelm Hillebrand helped create them in 1985: 160 characters. And thus, the need to squeeze in all the `inf`ormation` that the aforementioned peeps needed to get into each text, led to every English teacher`s nightmare.

Not too long ago, journalists used to think they were all that. Just because they worked with institutions that had hierarchies, checks, balances, ethics and rules, they f`elt they were part of` an exclusive society responsible for the dissemination of knowledge to the world. And although many of these individuals committed great acts of heroic rebellion, the institutions they worked for often had to succumb to higher pressures and towed the line.

Then came the blogs. These are journal-based sites broadcasting individuals` thoughts for anyone with an intemet connection to read/sce. And so the medium of the institution was no longer necessary.

Blogs are a lot more personal.

Bloggers write in the first person, express their views and opinions freely and if they choose to, anonymously.

It`s no surprise that they are immensely popular. We are extremely social animals and seem to have an infinite interest in anything anybodyhas to say.

Journalists, of course, felt threatened by this medium. They said bloggers are irresponsible and that`s partially true. But now that blogging has become an established practice, it, too, is slowly becoming institutionalised (you`ll find blogs in the navigation of every major news website today), and journalists and bloggers are begrudgingly learning to live with each other or become the same.Whichever comes first.

Moving on MSN, AOL and Yahoo!`s messengers as well as IRC chat rooms were all the rage in the late `90s to early noughties. I remember having long `conversations` with work colleagues on MSN messenger who were sitting in the same room with me.

They were also great for keeping in touch with friends and family from all over the world. But then Google came and all but destroyed those guys. So we switched to Google Chat. And Skype, which was great because it was independent f`rom the bigwigs (now itbelongs to Microsoft), and allowed voice, and later, video calls.

The next logical step in the evolution of social media was social networking. And although several sites were already present which performed the same functions, somehow it was Facebook that captured everyone`s imagination. It allows you to stay in touch with everyone you know who also has a Facebook account, once you`ve added each other as `Friends`.Of course, there`s a lot more to it now than just staying in touch, i.e.

messaging both publicly and privately. You can share your pictures, thoughts, videos, life events, just about anything that has, is or is going to happen in your life.

The main purpose being to keep everyone you know up-to-date. But what eventually tends to happen is that we make narcissistic online shrines for ourselves: `Look at me! See how clever I am? How many friends I have? What fun we have! Oh! Check out my car!And what do your Facebook friends do? They visit yours and others` shrines, living vicariously through each other, so that every moment when something isn`t happening in their lives, they can spend stalking those `friends` that are `happening`. Gosh I sound bitter! Anyway, the stalking is always optional. You can also play games, invite friends to events, and do all kinds of other things. But one of the most important functions on Facebook and the biggest source of revenue for them is that businesses can start pages (for free) on the site. Any user who wants to stay informed about a business can simply `Like` it, and from then on any update that they post will show up on their fans` news feeds. To get more `Likes`, businesses can advertise their pages, so that their ads show up on their target audiences` home page. And since most people have their age, gender, preferences and contact information already entered in the Facebook database, that target is pretty spot-on, indeed.

Whatever your interests are, these sites become what you want them to be. If you`re politically inclined, you can have political conversations with your `friends`. You can `like` political pages and groups, create related events, etc. The same goes for sites like YouTube (which is banned in Pakistan) and Twitter.

Now although YouTube is a simple video-sharing site where users can upload their videos for anyone to see, it has played an instrumental role in what are known as `social media revolutions`. Activists uploaded videos of government atrocities, which rallied support from more and more people. If you just want to see music videos, movie trailers, math lessons or makeup tips, then that`s there, too, along with anything else imaginable.

Take Twitter. It`s a micro-blogging site where you share as many updates as you want, as long as they`re not more than 140 characters long, something like sending texts to the world.

Whoever your followers are, will see your updates. In turn, you can follow musicians, models, politicians, journalists, bloggers, whoever you like! And whenever they have something to share, you`ll see it on your home page.

I guess LinkedIn deserves a mention at this point, even though it`s kind of boring. It`s your online CV. You can look for employees or jobs on the site.

`nuff said.

So as I was saying, social media is whatever you want it to be. It`s up to you how you use it. If you want to be connected to the people you care about, then it can help you do that better than ever before. If you want to be informed, well, it can also do that better than ever before. If you want to stalk, or rant, or be just generally crazy, that`s an option, too. E 

I, me and my Facebook :

Let me confess at the outset that I am addicted to Facebook. But it wasn`t really my own doing.

Taimur Tharki, a friend as old as I and by the way I`m 52 who spent hours on FB, one day, whispered to me how much I was missing out in life by not being on FB. So I created my account.

Wow. Tharki was right. So many old familiar laces, stared at me out of the computer screen. It was difficult to recognise those school and college friends as the freshness of the youth was replaced by a balding head and apersistent frown on the face.

But there were so many pretty young faces (of course women).

Well, it is a different matter that only five in 50 invites accepted and added me to their list of contacts. The FB administration admonished: `You are adding too many contacts, not known to you`. That put a halt to my endeavours.

Yet I couldn`t restrain myself from sending a request to Samina Shakoor. There wasn`t any picture besides her name, just that familiar ghost. But I hoped she was she; the slim girl, a picture of beauty; the heartthrob of the whole college. On my request to add her picture, what arrived a day later was ol`a woman out of the World Wrestling Federation, double chin and bulging from here and there and everywhere.

Al`ter that I could not f`ind muchtime to chat with her! However, besides this chat thing, I leamt much of human nature on FB.

There was this f`ellow I knew, who worked as a clerk in a bank and somehow managed to climb the corporate ladder too quickly to the top.

He lives in a sprawling house in Singapore as befits the director of a bank. On his last visit to Karachi, he posted his status: `Something is removing the gloss from the tyres of my 2013 Mercedes-Benz-SLs-Class.

Does anyone know where I can get it fixed?` It was clear he wanted to flaunt his wealth Rs20 million car.

Then there are travellers and honeymoon goers (most on their emplayer companies` cash), always posting: `Geneva here I come`, `too cold here in New York` and so on.

Does it make the lesser mortals like me jealous? May be. 

Confessions of a FB junkie:

Well, to tell you the truth, FB provides me an excellent opportunity to upload my pictures and blatantly I`launt my riches, and you see how innocently I do that. Wherever I go I update my status so the whole world could know that I am at a fashion show, attending a ball, or having lunch and dinner at a l`êted place. To keep my photos captivating I have to hit the gym to keep that well-toned figure. Oh, I know for sure that most of my friends are so jealous of my design-er clothes, accessories and branded bags that they buy the same stuff after me and then pretend that they got it first. Oh, these new money people. But you know for sure that none of them can have my style and aura and that makes them green with envy.

And when I post photos of my numerous foreign visits they have to click the `like` and write a compliment too. Ha ha, I know the feelings behind the comments, `oh so sweet`, `looking gorgeous`, etc. Oh, this is called double whammy.

The other advantage is that you can stock your exes and old flames very conveniently and keep an eye on them. You know whose relationship is complicated, who is having an affaire de coeur and whose marriage is in trouble. Oh what a convenience, now you are not dependent on those gossip sessions and lengthy phone calls to know what is happening in other people`s lives.

I want to share one more secret; I have discovered a website through FB which sells fake but first copics of branded bags. You know all those brands that make my friends` heads spin and mouths water, like Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Chole, Balenciaga, Birkin, etc., In fact, you name it and they have it. I have most of` the original ones but it is no harm in carrying f`ake ones too as no one is going to doubt it.

But you know like all good things in lif`e, here is a spoiler too. My kids and hubby are not very happy with my FB friendship. They believe that the virtual world is an oxymoron and one should deal with real people and f`riends. All this crap gives me a headache. They have no idea that all these likes and compliments give my self-esteem a boost and flatter my ego no end. I could go on but bye for now as my Facebook is calling me. Coming!  >>> Moniza Inam 
Traversing the conventional path:
ver the last few years, social media be it Facebook, Twitter or YouTube have emerged as an `important tool of communication` and a platform for generating debate in Pakistan.

Rapid growth in the use of the internet is enabling individuals to `create, collaborate and share their own media`. The number of people using Facebook or microblogging on Twitter to upload `information` in real time, and discuss or make sense of it, has surged dramatically in the last three to five years.

Sometimes, new media are credited for breaking important stories like lynching of the two brothers by a mob in Sialkot, which traditional or mainstream print and broadcast media had missed until an amateur video made on a mobile phone found its way onto YouTube. And who can forget an IT consultant unwittingly tweeting the US Navy Seals operation to take out Osama bin Laden from his hideout in Abbotabad? At other occasions, social media amplifies news or events that the users think mainstream media have under-reported or neglected or are unwilling to report at all. In doing so, they`re often able to thrust their agenda, right or wrong, on traditional news outlets, and the state institutions.

Remember young Shahzeb Khan`s murder in Karachi? At times, mainstream media and journalists, TV anchors and talk show hosts find themselves under the scanner of social media.

But can, or will social media substitute the mainstream news outlets? The debate on the possible impact of new media on traditional media is raging across the globe. Many believe that the role of social media as `news breaker` is exaggerated. Mostly, what we find on social media are stories sourced from mainstream news outlets, or, at best, raw information.

People like Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC Global News Division, argue that `information is not journalism. You get a lot of things, when you open up Twitter in the morning, but not journalism.

Journalism needs discipline, analysis, explanation and context, and, therefore, still is a profession. The value that gets added with journalism is judgement, analysis and explanation and that makes the difference. So journalism will stay.

In several cases, Twitter or Facebook and even YouTube may be the early source of information. Still, it is the mainstream media that `verifies and contextualise` these stories. Some studies describe it as `a complex relationship where professional and amateur versions of events coexist and feed off each other in ways that raise new challenges both for the law and for traditional working practices in media organisations`.

While the possibility of social media replacing traditional print and broadcast media may be exaggerated, studies show that the new media are making a change in `the production, distribution and discovery of news`.

Social media have, for example, become important for newspapers in `reaching out` to the readers. Mainstream media are using social media to drive traffic to their websites and blogs. Though we don`t have any study on `ref erral traffic` in Pakistan, it is believed to be quite large.

Similarly, new media is redefining the standards of `journalistic objectivity` as we had known until now, forcing both journalists and their organisations to become more accurate, fair and transparent to retain the trust of their audience.

New media will remain an important instrument of communication in Pakistan as `disseminator of information, a tool of humanitarianism, an advocate for social causes and a facilitator of political discussion`, but will not be a substitute for mainstream media.  
The other side of midnight:
While Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) is busy banning contraceptive commercials and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is still concerned over `blasphemous` videos, made in another part of the world, on YouTube, everyday social media is being increasingly used to advocate violence in Pakistan against any group or person who is seen as different or moderate.

Hate speech is an issue that is causing concern worldwide, as more and more peoplejoin social networking websites and use them to target women, minorities, etc. in the f`orm ol` Facebook and Twitter updates threatening them or spreading rumours about them.

Pakistan is no dilTerent, but the problem here is greater due to rising extremism in society and ongoing incidents of terrorism.

Social media has given banned outfits and individuals with a fundamentalist bent, the ability to reach out to millions of Pakistani netizens. On the pretext of freedom of expression, they are creating Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags of their version of Islam, often to incite hatredagainst Shias, Ahmadis or just about anyone who chooses to disagree with their beliefs.

What is alarming is that these few hundred pages and their social media teams are able to not only reach but actually attract a large number of people, who agree with the messages posted on these l`orums and spread them further. They actually debate on whether killing another human being was justil`ied or not, on the basis of his beliefs.

Though the minimum age f`or joining Facebook is 18 years, many teenagers arecreating accounts on the site and their activities are not monitored by their parents.

Militant groups therefore have access to thousands of impressionable teenagers across the country and are using it to their advantage.

With their interpretation of Jihad, they post calls to action against Hindus, Indians, Americans, Jews, Shias, Ahmadis, liberals, etc. Anyone who chooses to speak against them is branded as a foreign agent.

Very cleverly, these Facebook and Twitter accounts also post Quranie verses, the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) andpictures of religious sites so that their images and statuses are shared widely, by many people unaware of why these accounts were created.

This is the downside of having a digital lifestyle in Pakistan. You cannot avoid being exposed to such intolerance unless the government actually realises that promoting a violent image of Islam through social media is more damaging, in more than one way, than any YouTube movie made by a non-Muslim could ever be. E -Ayesha Hoda  
Taking the world by storm
What are you doing? is the question that Twitter asked the world around seven years back when it was launched publicly in July 2006. People then started to answer this simple question on this SMS sharing website (wonder where that 140 characters tweet limit comes from, eh? That`s the length of a SMS text message {sms text is 160 characters}) and it took the world by storm of what are called `Tweets`.

As more and more people joined this micro-blogging website, the random babble started turning into meaningful conversations that brought people from all across the world together according to their interests, for different causes and lately for political movements.Hashtags that is the usage of any term with # sign came out as a way of combining tweets related to any particular topic in the f`orm of an inf`ormation stream.

With the change in use of this platform, Twitter also changed its question to `What`s happening?` eventually making this question disappear altogether. It is now being aggressively used both locally and globally, not just as a tool to disseminate information related to different things but more actively to mobilise communities for social and political causes.

Use of twitter in Pakistan`s 2010 floods and more recently in May 20l3 elections illustrates this fact well.

On a more regular basis,Twitter is used for anything from knowing route situations after rain or riots to textual commentary during cricket matches, discussions on current affairs, tweeting to showbiz and political celebrities.

Other than the causebased usage of twitter, comes the business usage.

Companies everywhere, including many in Pakistan, use Twitter for social media marketing as well as a means to directly engage with their customers. Karachi Electric Supply Corporation`s @KESC Ltd and Pakistan Telecommunication Limited`s @PTCL are some of the exec11ent example of having an active and responsive Twitter presence.

At individual level, different RJs and television anchors also use it to interact with their audience on-airand off-air. Some unconventional yet interesting uses of Twitter have been seen in the f`orm of` accounts such as Prayables @Prayables that gives a sense of humanity and oneness by tweet-asking f`or prayers f`or those who request it.

To add to the effectiveness of textual tweets, different third-party services and utilities have also emerged that make it possible to embed images, videos and music to tweets. The growing popularity of Twitter is evident from the fact that close to half a billion tweets are generated everyday from all around the world. With the advent of more and cheaper smart-phones this number is only likely to increase globally as well as locally.
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