Are we using social media or is it using us?
“Communication is a weapon. Each slogan is a dumdum bullet that shoots like that! All the terms of advertising are war terms. We talk about target, we talk about strategy, we talk about impact.”
While previously, war information was privy: limited to important officials and ministers today it is a different story altogether. Our world has become interlinked in a web of social activity, almost shrunk, as information travels within seconds.
In 1838, Sidney Morse prophesied regarding the telegram, “The surface of the earth will be networked with wire, and every wire will be a nerve. The earth will become a huge animal with ten million hands, and in every hand a pen to record whatever the directing soul may dictate!” This has never been truer than in this age, where Facebook is the largest “country”, and more than 500 million tweets are sent each day!
Such global connectivity is praised for its ability to give people the power to know and share. This has inadvertently spread into all areas of life, including the warzone. Now, anyone sitting thousands of miles away from the battlefield can experience the sentiments and tragedy as images and videos capturing the chaotic scenes are shared almost instantaneously online. This can be liberating for the victims of such attacks, who have been provided with a platform for their plea to be heard, for the atrocities committed to be experienced by another- a luxury not possible just a few years back.
Whenever I see snippets of videos on my newsfeed describing such brutal crimes, it feels insulting when all I can do at that moment is share it, or use the “sad” emoticon. However this is nothing but foolish behaviour.
The internet has become a warzone and online sharing has now become an act of protest- the public outrage seen before on streets presently exists in the form of a hashtag. Interestingly, this puts tremendous pressure on the authorities involved- the world is watching and wrong doings are not easily overlooked. In a way, its democratizing war as the power is taken away from officials and given in the hands of the public who get to influence political action and the course of events that follow. A thruster for peace, such protests theoretically, result in shorter wars.
But what happens when one side has the ability to control and censor the information that the public receives? What is to be of peace and understanding when one side is cut off from the world?
This is precisely the nature of events unfolding in the Middle East. Facebook representatives in collaboration with Israeli government officials are deciding upon which Palestinians get to have a voice in the online community.
Censorship has a long history in times of war, and just like how during the civil war, censorship laws were applied to the telegram, today we see it happening via social media. But is the goal of this censorship truly to prevent violence as is claimed?
Franklin Roosevelt, soon after Pearl Harbor, declared the motto of U.S. office of censorship to be: “Silence speeds victory”. The purpose of censorship is apparent- to give one side a control over what the public sees and thus the ability to control opinions. There is no longer the need to justify wrong-doings because the world will no longer know of them, rather you can now convince them that you are fighting a ‘good’ war. The public still has the power to influence government action, but they can easily be manipulated to support unjust wars.
The interconnected world has failed us but I am not too surprised.
It was in the early years of Facebook when Mark Zuckerberg in an interview remarked on his new platform: “The goal wasn’t to make an online community, but a mirror of what existed in real life.”
And in real life, the powerful will silence the powerless and where newspapers and telegraphs have failed, social media will too.
Written by Foqia Shahid
Cover by Huffington Post