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Opportunities and threats in social media

We live in rapidly changing times, thanks to the technological wonders of internet and social media.

As fast as we can click and send, we can broadcast messages to friends, relatives and to just about anybody, anywhere in the world. This goes without saying, however, that here in the Philippines we are still considered as the digital turtle, and yet the most expensive, among our Asian neighbors.

Then US presidential candidate Barack Obama was among the first world leaders to realize the vast potential of social media as a platform for broadcasting campaign messages. And he won against a less tech savvy opponent by quite a margin.

According to Twitter, Obama was for a long time the record holder of most number of Twitter followers (47 million plus) until he was overtaken by US TV personality Ellen Degeneris.

Following the Obama model, then candidate/now President Donald Trump likewise tweets daily, earning himself the sobriquet “Commander-in-Tweet”. Most observers, however, are disconcerted by Trump’s brand of twiplomacy.

The Vatican is not to be outdone. Retired Pope Benedict XVI became the very first Pope to use Twitter. Pope Francis I, a relative late-comer, is catching up fast with 14.1 million followers and counting.

Former President Benigno Aquino III is also a regular in Twitter with a reported 3.4 million followers.

President Rody Duterte might not be into it personally. But his staff certainly realize the value of social media in the presidential communication program. I heard that Presidential Communications chief Martin Andanar is thinking of inviting social media bloggers to cover presidential events on a regular basis.

In homes, schools, communities, and just about any place where one has access to a computer, an iPod, or a smart phone, every Juan and Maria of practically all ages are sending and receiving messages via Facebook, twitter, instagram, viber and what have you.

The message is unmistakable. Social media is a very powerful tool for communication and is with us to stay.

And here is where Uncle Ben’s advice to Spider-Man should always be top-of-mind:

With great power comes great responsibility.

This message was re-echoed recently by Pope Francis. While acknowledging that “the internet, text messages, social networks and chats are ‘a gift from God” as they can be “fully human forms of communication” the Pontiff cautions that we must “use wisely the means at our disposal”.

The papal caveat arises from the very nature of the technology available.

Messages – true or not – have the potential of going viral in hours, if not in seconds.

“The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of expression”.

Social media has become a two-edged blade. On the one hand, it can be used to inform and raise awareness. But it can also be misused for spreading alternative truths and as weapons for maligning, defrauding and even harming others.

The cloak of anonymity afforded by social media has given rise to armies of troll who operate to disrupt, disturb discussions, to bash or just simply to annoy.

Wittingly or unwittingly, careless social media participants give out personal information which expose them to identity theft, financial scams, blackmail, sexual exploitation and security threats.

Because of the foregoing, do we need to give up Facebook and Twitter?

Not at all. As long as we do not become prisoners in our virtual reality. And also for as long as we follow the common-sense advice of practising responsibility in the web:

Think before you tweet. Think some more before you re-tweet, share or forward any message.

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(Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye)