Thursday, November 8, 2012

Social Media and Big Changes

When people mention social media, the first thought I have in my mind is they are talking about something funny online. Indeed, I am always surprised by the fact that social media serve millions of people in terms of social interaction and entertainment. It's a platform for exchanging trivia of life. As I treated social media as a new development for human civilization, the only change I would have expected is to see people's leisure time becoming increasingly interesting. I didn't think at all that social media could result in any breakthrough in society until I realize our lives are being strongly influenced by online information.                 

First of all, it has been discussed by more and more people that social media improve transparency. Thanks to the public participation and the instant communication on social media platforms, it's more difficult to manipulate public opinions even though in countries with a strict censorship system. For example, citizen journalists and even ordinary netizens in China publish articles on the internet to expose official's misbehavior. Before their messages get blocked, they have already reached to a large number of audiences. As a result, social media is a useful tool to supervise the words and deed of public figures. 

However, I witness a trend which people care less about public events but in contrary concentrate their focus more on others' private lives. More and more video tapes on YouTube catch women quarrel in supermarkets, couples' intimate acts in public and defamatory announcement attacking civilians. Social media are transforming to serve individual curiosity of spying personal privacy. 

Most of the time the information sharing in public can help people make better decisions in their lives. Social media provide strong support to every choice we make. From choosing the best brand of diapers to choosing the ideal candidate for presidency, people have more sources to rely on. Suppose a person plans to make an investment and is having a hard time deciding between stocks and government bonds, he can get access to annual financial statement of a company or government budget without spending too much effort.       

Furthermore, World Wide Web keeps tracks not only on organizations but also on individuals. I think many of you still remember the excitement when Google Map launched a new function which allows people to tag personals who with a criminal record in their neighborhood. This new application of Google Map became popular in a short time, partly because many people use it for safety issues. Some of them will do a little research on Google Map before they move in a new area. Some will look for any potential threat to community stability so as to remind their family members to pay more attention to personal safety and minimize the risks.  

Many websites combined with Google Map's new function and started to provide a new neighborhood watch service. CriminalSearches is one of the many. Users will be presented with a map locating people in community nearby with criminal records by just entering a full address, or simply the name of their city or state.  However, this also triggers a wide-spread controversy in society. The main argument people have is about the privacy concern. It's questionable whether people who committed a crime in the past should be identified in public. Don't they deserve a chance to start over? The exposure of people's ugly past has no doubt will impede their current lives. Would it be good for prosperity of community if we have members being unfairly treated? Moreover, some cases also pointed out that criminals took advantages of information provided by Google Map for theft or burglary. 

It's unbelievably amazing to see how closely connected between social media and our daily lives. While people can be empowered by information online and have more control over issues related to them, it's worth to notice that social media on the other hand can be very harmful. It blurs the idea of privacy and introduces public opinion to interfere private matters.    

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