In Nepal or even India and many other developing countries, debates about social media are more focused about their negative impacts i.e. defamation, obscenity, hatred and violence. Rather than discussing about how to make best use of these technologies, people are more worried about how to better control them. In my personal experience, even in some sessions that are designed to make people literate about social media, the debate shifts towards how to restrict them. I have found many people worried about controlling mechanisms even before they start using them!
Wherever possible, I try to convince people that these are the technologies of freedom and therefore let us give people explore them and use in any way they want. Social media are expanding the boundaries of freedom of speech and expression far more than any other media technologies of the past did. Not only that, social media have turned every individual the owner of their information and has equipped them with technologies to disseminate that information as and when they want.
Social media have also provided outlets to people’s creative activities. Even Mark Zuckerberg who found Facebook must be stunned now that people are using this platform in so many ways which even he might not have thought. So is the case for Twitter, Google+ and other social media platforms.
Certainly, there are limitations of social media too. Especially in the case of the country like Nepal, internet penetration and speed is the biggest hurdle followed by computer literacy and command over English language. Lack of computers is no more a limitation as most of the mobile phones now come with social media apps. In this case, what IT geeks and companies can really do for the people is by developing apps in local languages.
Any technology comes with negative potential too. When FM broadcasting by private institutions was introduced in Nepal, people were worried about its negative potential. Even some people panicked that private radio stations may not only harm the sovereignty of Nepal but also that of India and China too. However, it’s been more than one and a half decade of private FM radios in Nepal and they have created a glorious track record!
In the west, there is huge body of literature suggesting negative impacts of Television. However, television continues to be the integral part of many people’s daily lives and certainly there are less negative impacts than what it is providing to the people: information, education, entertainment and an escape from reality of daily work routines!
My conclusion and suggestion, therefore, as ever is: Social Media are the technologies of freedom; let people use them in as many ways as possible. It’s time to advocate for its penetration and literacy. Control mechanisms come later.