TODAY -

Proliferation of Keyboard warriors vis-a-vis internet ban
The social responsibility of social media users

TM Gangte *



With information superhighway becoming accessible to all, the flow and spread of information is happening faster than ever before. The Internet has changed the way people work, study and interact with each other. People have enjoyed the freedom of expression to the core. Although it is a vast, ungoverned space, the internet or social media has diminished geography and saved time. Many users too can find an outlet on many issues including governance when conventional media censored their ideas or approaches.

Social media’s beauty also lies in the fact that it provides users the platform to challenge any policies, plans of the government or the speeches, ideas and activities of the power-that-be. Whether the system or governments have accommodated these voices from the virtual world is another thing. Little room of doubt would be left in saying that social media users are ‘non-formal’ journalists.

Everyone has the opportunity to express his/her sides of the story. Given the level of freedom enjoyed by the users there is fear and apprehension among observers that the contents of social media could fuel violence. There is a saying that two wrongs make right. However, in the virtual civilization, every user is invincible, supreme. No one would admit that he/she is on the wrong side. This has resulted to the proliferation of a kind of warrior, the Keyboard Warriors.

The contents of social media during the popular movement for Inner Line Permit System (ILPS) and related incidents and the aftereffects; unrestrained, provocative, highly inflammatory views and comments, insinuations, one sided rants and rhetoric even having the potential to threat the plural ethos of a geo-political entity called Manipur are cases in point. The need of stakeholders to introspect and imbibe the essence of a disciplined approach to the functioning of social media is felt urgently.

In the words of communication researcher Dr BK Ravi, communication which is an act of interaction and interplay of emotions and information between individuals is an intrinsic and integral part of society. Every societal activity is based on communication. Both society and communication are intertwined. No society can exist without communication.

Mass media are the important and chief carriers of mass communication. The factor of responsibility, which is closely related to society, should be pondered by all stakeholders. To be precise, all stakeholders should take cognizance of the social responsibility the mass media has.

A stalwart of communication studies Wilbur Schramm used to define communication only entwined with the relevance of society in it. Schramm says, ‘Communication is that part of social activity wherein there is dissemination of information, entertainment and educative exchanges intended for positive development of the society’.

The philosophy of Social Responsibility theory of mass media is an extension of the libertarian philosophy in that the media recognize their responsibility to resolve conflict through discussion and to promote public opinion, consumer action, private rights, and important social interests. This theory has its major premise that freedom carries concomitant obligations (Ravi, BK).

The media (including social media) have an obligation to be responsible to the public. If it is not so, then some agency of the public should enforce it. Public opinion and consumer action can guarantee that the press behaves. This theory led to the establishment of Press Councils, drawing up of Codes of Ethics and anti-monopoly laws in many countries.

One of the foremost Communication scholars Denis McQuail summarized the basic principles of Social Responsibility Theory as the following - Media should accept and fulfil certain obligations to society. These obligations are mainly to be met by setting high or professional standards of informativeness, truth, accuracy, objectivity and balance.

In accepting and applying these obligations, media should be self-regulating within the framework of law and established institutions. We all know that the media (social media users) should avoid offensive content triggering crime, violence, or civil disorder or harm. But we are less bother to shoulder the responsibility to our society. The media as a whole should be pluralist and reflect the diversity of their society, giving access to various points of view and rights of reply. Users should be accountable to society.

In the current digital age where the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and globalised, our responsibility towards the society also grows. How do we react when shocking, gory pictures and name calling, provocative comments and remarks pop up before your computer screen or smart phones? We should be aware that our utterances on social media have direct or indirect bearings on our society.

We as a people fail on our part to take responsibility to our society. Our plurality is well reflected on social networking spaces beyond imagination. Instead of promoting social cohesion among the different ethnic communities of the State, we are swept over by our egos and ethno-centric agendas. Rather than contributing our might in solving the inimical issues, we take sides and aggravated the already worsening situation.

This is best reflected when the State Govt swiftly blocked social networking sites in the wake of bulk of unfounded, provocative, cheap propaganda comments and photographs, which have the potential to spark communal passion, are circulated and disseminated on social networking sites following the incidents at Churachandpur. But, do we really deserve such regulation? No. But. It had to be. Because, we fail our responsibility towards our society. We need no regulation, we must oblige certain responsibilities.

Many communication experts have broadly agreed to the fact that the ‘contents’ not the medium’ has evolved to become one key issue; and ‘netiquette’ is the need of the hour. Along with media freedom adjoins what media analyst John C. Merrill calls ‘social-determinism’ of the media.


* TM Gangte wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on September 3, 2015.


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