The alter ego? Vanity? Or is social media truly giving people a voice?

When I was in school, debate was an annual affair where the vocal ones among us prepared drafts and presented their views in a timed and orderly fashion. While our teachers usually encouraged students to express themselves in general, it however, wasn’t the “done” thing. A handful of us were passionate about certain causes, yet, it seemed like a private affair mostly.

Things are very different in the world of social media today. One look at our Facebook and Twitter feeds tells us that most people have an opinion and a voice. Most people are activists and passionate about causes. Most people are experts on their chosen subjects. This may make us believe that social media has in fact played a significant role in democratizing media participation, allowing all users to contribute news and comments and thereby increase dialogue and critique in general. A closer look however tells us that it is only a handful of our friends who generate most of the “user generated content” on our feeds. Most other social media users are passive audiences who are more likely to discuss online content offline with their friends and reference groups than actually writing a post/comment/blog online about a current affair topic. Not very different then from the handful who always raised their hand in class to share a query? (I shall make no bones here about the fact that this handful includes yours truly!)

A survey conducted in the US reveals that over 63% of Facebook and Twitter users now say that these platforms serve as a source of news about current affairs and society. That being said, this makes each of us digital journalists who must serve the journalistic version of the Hippocratic oath before we start typing away. The American Press Institute describes the journalist as a “committed observer” who may at times stand apart from others so as to view things from a different perspective. Journalism is therefore of greater value than opinion and assertion over social media because it empowers people with verified information that they can use to make better decisions about their lives and communities. The keyword here, of course, is “verified”.

It is not just comments about news and affairs which influence readers. Food bloggers, reviewers, and so called “social media foodies” are armed enough to make or break businesses.

Therefore the power vested in us by these media as well as the time invested by users surfing these media is immense. Knowing this and weighing our thoughts before publishing therefore becomes crucial.

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