Thursday December 02, 2021

Online chaos Ahmad Jawad

May 21, 2020

What happens if difference of opinion turns into an exchange of insults at the national level? Chaos in our daily life. Societies with such situations disintegrate slowly. Digital information has turned drawing room discussion into national debates participated by 80 million people in Pakistan and four billion arounbd the world.

Imagine: when four billion people only want to be heard without listening to others, it results in chaos. This chaos will be bigger in countries where education is limited, justice and merit are missing, regulation is a discretion of the ruling elites and most importantly lack of tolerance is a norm.

Pakistan is one such country with 80 million social media users with an average increase of one million plus addition every month. Those rare confrontations on streets or roadsides have now shifted to a digital space occupied by millions. It is now a daily spectacle of bizarre and abusive exchange of expression online.

The principle of ‘Agree to disagree’ is long lost. We can now label difference of opinion as someone being a traitor or shameless or by doubting one’s faith with a click. Abusing difference of opinion by attacking people has become a norm of the digital age. Today, the same people who were once seen as troublemakers in our streets are seen as heroes on social media. The sharper and filthier is one’s tongue, the more they get social media following. Does it not look like the dark period of the Roman Empire, where gladiators used to fight and kill the opponent while spectators would clap on every drop of blood. Welcome to the digital Colosseum held round the clock.

The digital age has just sparked our frustration. The nation is at loggerheads with each other at every moment round the clock.

Discussing a subject in the physical presence of a group of people and discussion on a digital forum are very different in nature. In a physical interaction, our facial expression and body language help in mutual understanding. In a digital forum, the entire reliance of mutual understanding is on ‘composition of words’ which are written and understood differently by different people.

Social media is not an evolution, it’s a ‘happening’; we were not groomed or prepared for such exposure. People from every walk of life jumped into one single space of the digital age. Suddenly it became too close for comfort.

We must prepare our society to learn how to survive and grow in the digital world. Social media can be used to create as well as prevent disruption. It depends on us if we can exploit the disruption; tomorrow we might be victims of the same disruption. Today’s chaos of convenience might become a disadvantage tomorrow. Chaos can change sides anytime.

Twent percent of the time of the nation is spent on social media or digital space, which means 12 years of our life out of 60 years will be spent on digital space. The question must arise as to what role educational institutions have played in the training of this 20 percent time of the nation? We need a curriculum of digital space for educational institutions, which can prepare the moral, ethical, social, political and professional attitudes of the nation in the digital space.

Whose responsibility should be to prepare the nation and control the chaos on social media and turn this into strength and national cohesion? I think it must start from the government. The media should play its role, educational institutions should make curriculum, regulatory bodies should bring reforms, civil societies need new creative minds to tackle such subjects.

Monitoring of social media is not as needed as the moral, ethical and responsible digital culture training of the nation. The digital narrative is not meant to create groups but to create a nation. We have to decide whether we want to build groups or we want to build a nation.

Social media should not become a lost battle of humanity. It should become a space of evolving humanity, tolerance and knowledge.

We must begin to understand the difference between a ‘one on one’ discussion and a group discussion. The sensitivity level in a group discussion is much higher than in an individual discussion. Social media is mostly group discussion. ‘One on one’ discussion can lead to resolution easily but group discussion will lead only to disruptions.

Never start your response to any opinion by expressions like ‘I disagree with you’ or ‘you don’t know anything’. That is not an opinion but an expression of arrogance and frustration. The beauty of the counter-argument is presenting your argument without drawing a sword.

The art of conversation and argument is not a one-time recipe but we practise it throughout our life to develop and learn this art with tolerance, humility, knowledge and experience. We all fall prey to undesirable conversation but we may analyse our response after each episode for correction.

Another undesirable approach on social media during an argument is passing judgment, which only ends in creating friction.

The writer is an entrepreneur and Central Secretary Information, PTI.