Social media — helpful or harmful?
Does social media improve communications? Has social media’s personal and professional impact been advantageous or detrimental? The predicament here is that there is no right or wrong answer. It is difficult to take a rigid stance on the benefits or disadvantages of social media because this particular argument comprises several grey areas.
From a professional standpoint, social media helped Coca-Cola strategically communicate with disgruntled fans by giving the company a chance to promptly evaluate a tirade of complaints. Until May 2014, Coca-Cola’s full-calorie Vitamin water brand contained a blend of cane sugar and crystalline fructose. Coca-Cola wanted to introduce a new recipe that combined cane sugar with Stevia, an artificial sweetener that is commonly perceived as a healthier option. Customers were forthright in their disagreement with this new venture and used social media to air their grievances. Coca-Cola eventually conceded and presented itself as a business that truly cares about the demands of its customers. Social media, therefore, gave it a chance to evaluate constructive feedback before facing the ramifications of an unsuccessful product launch.
Social media also played an instrumental role during the 2013 elections in Pakistan. Social media users encouraged fellow ‘tweeters’ and ‘facebookers’ to leave the comfort of their homes and participate wholeheartedly in the electoral process. The eventual voter turnout exceeded expectations. People also used Twitter and Facebook to report apparent irregularities at polling stations. Pictures of paper ballots strewn all over the ground went viral. Videos of unidentified party workers peering over the shoulders of confused voters circulated on a wide scale.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ordered a re-poll for several national and provincial assembly constituencies although there is not enough quantifiable evidence to prove that heightened social media activity was solely responsible for putting pressure on the ECP to conduct a re-poll. The extent to which election fraud took place is still a heavily debated topic. The general public’s intense focus on manipulated ballots was a unique turning point. Deceitful practices on election day were previously always suspected, but rarely ever challenged. Voters were able to bridge geographic gaps by using social media to share information with one another. Social media can certainly be utilised as an effective communications outlet to create a sense of community and provide important news updates.
However, social media can easily take a negative turn when it falls into the wrong hands. Consider the Islamic State (IS), which has ruthlessly seized large parts of Syria and Iraq. The IS is producing state-of-the-art videos and multilingual messages on Twitter to recruit fighters. It is also sharing images on Instagram and releasing audio reports on SoundCloud. Social media sites have helped recruit at least 100 Americans and thousands of other individuals living in the Middle East. The IS artfully promotes itself through technological mediums of communication by continuously reaffirming its success on the battlefield. Young people watching these videos and reading these memos appear to admire the extremist group’s alleged power and displays of wealth. The IS supposedly makes more than $1 million a day in revenue and is employing marketing techniques that are indicative of a rapidly growing business. Even with its archaic ideologies, it has ironically managed to exploit modern social media as a destructive propaganda initiative.
It is important to develop a strong aptitude for social media since it has evolved into a valuable news source and communications tool. However, its value dissipates when it is used to ignite violence, hostility and fear. Therefore, social media has the tendency to be both helpful and harmful to the world.
The writer is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Communication Practice at Columbia University. She tweets @anamk10