Filipinos should use the power of social media wisely

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Social media is less than a decade old. Obviously, when I was a teenager there was no Facebook or Twitter yet. I am so glad for that. At one point or another in our teenage years, we all acted like space cadets. But at least only a handful of people close to us will remember what we said or did. Even our own memory of what happened in the past can become a bit blurry. That is a good thing because some things are best forgotten.

The thought of acting like a complete idiot and documenting it online gives me goose bumps. If I had Facebook then, what ever I said in my period of giddiness could still be dug up in Google’s cache for everyone to read today or years later on. This is something that not a lot of people bother to consider when they participate in discussions even with strangers they meet online.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in mosaic made of FB icons

You can compare it with getting a tattoo and then regretting it later on. At least there is a procedure now to remove unwanted tattoos but the stuff written online is more permanent. You never know who has kept a copy of what you wrote in cyberspace.

Nowadays, kids in their “tweens” – those in preadolescence, that is, in the range of 9 to 12 years old or those who are not even supposed to be on Facebook yet, have profiles on such social networking sites. People at that age are still very vulnerable to misinterpreting what they read. US First Lady, Michelle Obama even weighed in on what she thought about kids being on Facebook. She said: “I’m not a big fan of young kids having Facebook…you know, it’s not something they need.” Of course, she is right, indeed.

Teenagers have not yet developed the ability to process and gauge the consequences of reading or revealing information on social networking sites. Recent studies have shown that the human brain becomes fully developed only after we reach our mid-twenties. The technology today puts careless words; inappropriate photographs or intimate details on permanent record and is freely available for anyone to access. A mistake you make as a teenager can cost you that dream job later on when your future employer stumbles across some dirt about you. They may even dig up some information about you intentionally before hiring you just because it is so easy to do so.

As reported in one of the news items found on the Net, Baroness Greenfield, the Oxford University neuroscientist and former director of the Royal Institution said that social networking sites “shortened children’s attention spans, encouraged instant gratification and made young people more self-centred.”

I can totally believe how some people can acquire an overdeveloped narcissistic tendency from hanging out in social networking sites. Prior to Facebook and Twitter, some people’s preoccupation included activities such as stamp collection – something harmless to them and to other people. Nowadays, social outcasts can reinvent themselves into modern day Casanovas behind their computer screens. Middle-aged men are even free to chat with women half their age and boast about their conquests as if they were God’s gift to women.

The problem arises when people — especially young people — blur the lines between gossip and fact and begin to fail to appreciate the difference between the two. And it can be particularly very difficult to tell which is true and which is made up when people read something online. A classic example of this is when some people actually thought that the satirical publication Mosquito Press was a legitimate source of news and information. It can become costly and embarrassing when people are gullible enough to believe everything they read.

It is unfortunate too that there are even some adults in their forties or fifties who have an under-developed sense of propriety. They find it difficult to figure out which of their actions is inappropriate or unsuitable for public broadcast. Sadly, they are the ones leading in cyber bullying and harassment. They do this because they think they are “cool.” Some kids actually think they are because they learn a lot of taboo topics from them. Unbeknownst to others, these adults are quite possibly just masking their empty lives and channelling their loneliness by spending time preying on kids young enough to be their own. They are also trying to emulate Playboy founder, Hugh Hefner by surrounding themselves with young people as much as possible to keep feeling young. Or because most of their contemporaries have moved on to have fulfilling lives.

I do not think that the founders of social networking sites intended their sites to be used as a tool to engage in unproductive and wasteful activities. Mark Zuckerberg does want us to stay connected but in a good way. The question of what happened to our high-school crush is no longer a mystery thanks to Facebook. And of course Zuckerberg wants us to click on the numerous ads on his site while we upload or look at photos of our friends.

Personally, I am proud of the fact that I did not accumulate a lot of friends on Facebook. Who wants to see their “newsfeed” inundated with extraneous information everyday anyway? But because I try not to log on too often, I do worry about updates that scroll off my page into digital oblivion without me having had the chance to check them out yet. Nowadays, the Internet bombards us with so much information that we don’t need in a way that oftentimes distracts us from engaging properly with the real world. Fun and all at best but also addictive and unproductive at worst.

James Franco recently shut down his Twitter account and boldly announced that “social media is over.” Whether his prediction is true or not, it is obvious that the actor found Twitter quite boring. Now I haven’t tried Twitter yet but I think someone as long-winded as me will have trouble trying to fit in everything I have to say in 140 characters or less. And what is the point of it anyway? What do people get out of it? If the goal is to be able to express myself, as a blogger, limiting it to a certain number of characters per entry just plain sucks.

Even a US study had found that more than half the posts consumed on Twitter were made by just 20,000 users out of the 260 million twitter users registered on the social networking site. Only a few celebrities, media organizations and bloggers published the tweets most regularly viewed or retweeted.

In other words, regular folks who tweet may just be tweeting into a big void where nobody is listening. But the good news for me is that, the study also found “that organizations tended to follow industry-related bloggers rather than business news twitterers.” That might be the only single reason I would consider joining Twitter belatedly — although joining twitter might worsen my developing attention deficit disorder. I might become addicted to some famous person’s life and to the constant interruption that distracts me from my own non-famous existence. I certainly don’t need that.

If used properly, social media is a tool that can do a lot of good for developing nations. After 30 years, Egyptian youths have finally deposed ex-President Mubarak thanks to a revolution that was supposedly sparked by social networking sites. And some other despot’s head might also roll soon due to the success of what has been dubbed “revolution 2.0”, which has gone viral across the rest of the Arab nations.

Here in the Philippines, social networking sites have contributed to the pressure on disgraced television host, Willie Villarame and the executives of TV5 to change their tune. Due to the barrage of twitter messages and blog articles calling for a return to a more decent programming due to Revillame’s alleged “child abuse” of a six-year old boy on the show, the TV host is now in hiatus and the future of the show in its current format in tatters.

Hopefully, this is the start of a real revolution in the Philippines. With the help of social media, more Filipinos will be enlightened with the truth and be emboldened to clamor for real change that will result in real progress for the nation. Now that is something that should be permanently recorded on the Net.

[Image (slightly enhanced) courtesy Charis Tsevis]

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20 Comments on “Filipinos should use the power of social media wisely”

  1. Congratulations in writing a very thoughtful piece that did not have to descend into a slap at old yellow-shirt hissself.

    I share your inclination to avoid making so much of one’s personal thoughts and communications open to the wide world. It seems to take away intimacy, which I find particularly precious in the friendships that mean the most to me.

    Most of the chatter on the internet is from people who never knew the thrill of receiving a personal letter from across the country or seas, sometimes days or weeks being delivered.

    1. Well, I got really into it when I was new to Facebook. I updated my “wall” regularly and uploaded photos of almost everything I did. But after a while I got tired of it. I still update my status every now and then but not as religiously as some people.

      Maybe if I didn’t have anything better to do with my life I would feel the need to tell people about my breakfast and why I hate the traffic.

      What I really find fascinating is how some ordinary people manage to accumulate over a thousand friends or more. They are not a celebrity; I don’t really think they could possibly know that many people. There is something to be said about people who feel the need to show off how many “friends” they have.

      1. Those who have accumulated thousands of friends on facebook even when they are not celebrities or maintain a work that allow the public to know them, have done so because of games on facebook.

        A few of my friends accumulated hundreds of friends in a day, and thousands in a week because of Mafia wars, Poker, etc.

        I’m not sure about friendster, multiply, etc.

        As for twitter, its system promotes mutual friendship or following if one wishes to send a Direct Message. Also, if one seeks to have many followers, it is advisable to follow as many as one can too, so twitter holders may get to know one and follow him/her.

        1. I know a lot of people who DON’T play those FB games but still have thousands of friends. Not that there is anything wrong with having lots of friends but there is actually a study that revealed that having a lot of friends on FB increases one’s stress levels:

          Study links number of Facebook friends to stress levels

          Psychologists from Edinburgh Napier University today released the results of a study, revealing that people with more Facebook friends are more likely to feel stressed or anxious about using the website.

          In fact, the study concluded that, for a significant number of Facebook users, the negative effects of the website even outweigh the positive benefits of staying in touch with friends and family.

          The lead researcher for the study – Dr Kathy Charles – also points out that the study threw up a number of paradoxes, such as the fact that there is ‘great pressure to be on Facebook but for most, only very modest or tenuous rewards.’

          The study also likens Facebook to gambling, saying that ‘like gambling, Facebook keeps users in a neurotic limbo, not knowing whether they should hang on in there just in case they miss out on something good.’ This, says the report, leaves users of the site feeling ‘anxious about withdrawing from the site for fear of missing important social information or offending contacts’.

          Interestingly, the study also found that users found the pressure to be inventive and entertaining with their status updates and comments stressful.

          Other interesting numbers pulled out of the study are that:
          12 per cent of respondents said that Facebook made them feel anxious
          63 per cent delayed replying to friend requests
          32 per cent said rejecting friend requests led to feelings of guilt and discomfort
          10 per cent admitted disliking receiving friend requests”

      2. Ilda, contrary to my case, I wasn’t very keen on updating my wall on facebook during the initial phase of obtaining my account. In fact, I registered with facebook because of Yoville, Farmtown, and Farmville.

        But only when I grow tired and familiar of these games, that I began to give attention to my wall. At that time, facebook gave the option of “become a fan” to access a certain page. Now, you have to “like” a page. This is also the time when I liked many pages such as the fb account of news media, etc.

        A week after I stumbled upon your article on Gordon and Patricia, I found the fb account of AP, and thereafter, the GRP and the AP Crowd. This was also the time when I added you as among my friends on fb. This is also the time when I am active on my wall.

        1. Ok. I didn’t realise that you are already one of my FB friends 😉

          Good to know that you don’t play those ‘ville games anymore. Not that there is anything wrong with people who play those games online. But the creators of those games just want to generate revenues from players.

  2. What really bothered me is these politicians, businessmen, and journalists use the media as a weapon. Kung ayaw nila sa isang bagay o tao, they tend to destroy it through different media resources like internet, facebook, magazines, newspaper, etc. para ma-humiliate siya.

    Chances are if they do that, more people will hate that thing or person they are referring too. They talk about being good yet these hypocritical politicians and especially priests teach only hate to people.

    It’s like the medieval times, when the priests do not understand something, they point at it and say it’s “evil” or “an evil spirit”. No questions asks. It’s like they’re confusing us with their baseless accusations.

    1. Yes Edward. Some public servants just use social media to wreak havoc in our society. They should use it to unite the people instead.

  3. @Ilda
    You are witnessing the flux of History of the Information Technology in the Philippine Media. You are a part of it; as well as we all are…Think here of the future; when you will be old and gray: How will your GrandChildren, think of you, because you are a part of it?…
    Like any other tool…Cyberspace Networking can be used for good, or for evil…
    If I give you a Knife…you can use it to cut your neighbors’ throat.Or, to cut vegetables and meat, for cooking. So that, we can all share a good meal, to satisfy our hungers…

    1. When I look at how some Filipinos use social networking sites, I do realise that it might be the worse thing for a society that is “big on action with very little thinking.” Which is why I am really advocating that Filipinos use social media wisely. The progress we gained putting pressure on the producers of Willing Willie is a good example of how we can use it wisely.

    1. And your response is a classic ad hominem.

      So you would consider James Franco an “old schooler” just because he said “social media is over?”

      That guy has better things to do with his life than update his status just to please his fans.

    2. What are the classical fears of an “old schooler” by the way?

      I ‘liked’ on this article so it will reflect on my wall on facebook. But I wonder why Carmi Martin’s photo was displayed as the thumbnail instead of the image featured by the article itself.

      This happens thrice already.

      Any tip on how to avoid this is appreciated.

      1. Any tip on how to avoid this is appreciated.

        Before you click the “share” button, change the thumbnail by clicking on the arrow button that says “no thumbnail” until you get the right photo.

        Good luck!

      2. “Here in the Philippines, social networking sites have contributed to the pressure on disgraced television host, Willie Villarame and”

        Oops! I didn’t know Willie’s last name is Villarame.

  4. My two young kids, both of them are in high school, are facebook users or facebookers. He he he, somebody have to oversee what they post in facebook and by default, it should be me. And I should also be a facebooker.

    I use facebook in writing some of my thoughts that maybe I can post in a blog once I have one. Not so much with socializing.

  5. Great Article.

    I have almost 2000 friends but I only post articles like this from GRP and Antipinoy.com, and videos by 1818JoseRizal1898, GRP and TheProudMonkey in youtube…and others concerning my Religion. I never post about my life and I don’t post regularly. I just copy paste and copy paste whatever I think just really, and I mean really need to be known (not would’ve -wanted- to know, like entertainment). Besides, I don’t have a single picture of myself in fb, have very little information about myself, and 90% of those friends are my brothers and sisters in Spirit.

  6. Personally, Ilda, I hope Filipinos do not abuse social media as another stage for their narcissism.

    The quality of the Filipino community in online forums has stayed consistent throughout the years. Consistently pathetic. Ragnarok online, world of warcraft, and now FB and twitter are examples I’ve been in that prove my point. More avenues for the attention whores and grandstanders they are predisposed to be.

    It’s like someone gave the Filipino a microphone to wail away at the videoke machine with.

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