Social Media: Blessing or Curse?


Of the two recent studies making headlines this week, one brings good news and the other warns of grave risks.

The good news first: New research shows that in a social network, happiness spreads among people up to three degrees removed from one another. That means when you feel happy, a friend of a friend of a friend has a slightly higher likelihood of feeling happy too. And the more connected you are to happy people, the happier you feel.

"We get this chain reaction in happiness that I think increases the stakes in terms of us trying to shape our own moods to make sure we have a positive impact on people we know and love," explains Professor James Fowler, co-author of the study and professor of political science at the University of California in San Diego.

"We've known for some time that social relationships are the best predictor of human happiness, and this (latest study) shows that the effect is much more powerful than anyone realized," Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard told CNN. "It is sometimes said that you can't be happier than your least happy child. It is truly amazing to discover that when you replace the word 'child' with 'best friend's neighbor's uncle,' the sentence is still true."

Earlier this year, President-elect Barack Obama's campaign rewrote the rules of successful presidential election campaigning as it embraced social networking and Web 2.0 technologies to reach out to young American voters across the nation. The dramatic success of the Obama campaign in fundraising and energizing young, affluent voters and on college campuses has been quite phenomenal. Obama significantly outraised funds by at least two to one, to the tune of $750m in small contributions, and defeated the powerful Clinton Democratic machine as well as his Republican opponent John McCain.

While almost no one questions the power of social networking in transforming the lives of under-30 Americans, there are concerns being raised about the risks of social networking. As the membership of social networks and the users of social media applications such as Facebook, MySpace, and Orkut grow dramatically to hundreds of millions in the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America, it seems that this phenomenon is still in very early infancy in Pakistan. As of now, there are about 200,000 Pakistanis on Facebook, about 100,000 on Orkut, and a few thousand on MySpace. There are smaller social networks such as Naseeb.com that have a few thousand Pakistani members as well. While Naseeb.com bills itself as a Muslim social network, it seems primarily focused on match-making. Recently Naseeb has started a Pakistani job-search site as well. Pakistan's middle class is estimated to be about 25m people, larger than the population of several European countries and Australia. With such a large middle class population, only a small fraction is participating in the social networking phenomenon. The reasons cited for this minuscule participation include the lack of access to the PC and the Internet, lack of familiarity, and shyness standing in the way of appropriate public self-expression. While I acknowledge that these might be contributing factors, I believe the main factor is the lack of a socially and culturally appropriate content and welcoming environment that suits the Pakistani sensibility and taste. It is something hard to describe but it is something you know when you see it. A new social network called PakAlumni Worldwide has recently been launched to serve this exact need and to encourage Pakistanis to participate in larger numbers. It is still in its early days with about 800 members but growing rapidly. The membership includes a large number of Pakistanis living in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and various parts of Asia. The social connections made via PakAlumni can easily turn into business connections and help build support for important social causes. PakAlumni can also help bring the Pakistani diaspora together to grow closer and more prosperous and help Pakistan achieve greatness in the process while improving its civil society and image.

As to the risks involved in social media participation, a recent hoax on MySpace led to the suicide of a 13-year old girl in Missouri. Megan Meier thought she had made a new friend in cyberspace when a cute teenage boy named Josh contacted her on MySpace and began exchanging messages with her. Megan, who suffered from depression and attention deficit disorder, corresponded with Josh for more than a month before he abruptly ended their friendship, telling her he had heard she was cruel and told her "the world would be a better place without you".

Lately, IT executives in large corporations have expressed fears that employees using social networking sites may download viruses that wind up on their employer's computers or reveal information about themselves on the networking sites that compromises their employer's business secrets. To prevent such problems, some companies, including Intel, ban their workers' access to social networking sites. Not only do employees put their companies at risk, they also expose themselves to identity fraud. McAfee's list of top 12 Christmas scams this year warns that people on some social-networking sites have been receiving messages that say "You've got a new friend." When clicked, the messages downloads software that steals their financial information.

Social networks and social media applications are like any other powerful tools at our disposal. They can be extremely useful in connecting us to the world and increase our wealth and happiness, but they can also bring serious harm to the lives of young people who tend to be more open to sharing personal information with strangers or clicking on malicious links.

Comments

Riaz Haq said…
Here's Niall Ferguson in Newsweek fretting about terrorists using social media:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that information technology—in particular social networking through the Internet—is changing the global balance of power. The “Facebook Generation” has already been credited with the overthrow of the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. For a brief period, the darling of Tahrir Square was the young Google executive Wael Ghonim.

Yet there is another side to the story. It is not only proponents of democracy who know how to exploit the power of online networking. It is also the enemies of freedom.

Ask yourself: just how did the murderous mob in Mazar-e Sharif find out about the burning of a Quran in Florida? Look no further than the Internet and the mobile phone. Since 2001 cell-phone access in Afghanistan has leapt from zero to 30 percent.
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It seems paradoxical. In Samuel Huntington’s version of the post–Cold War world, there was going to be a clash between an Islamic civilization that was stuck in a medieval time warp and a Western civilization that was essentially equivalent to modernity. What we’ve ended up with is something more like a mashup of civilizations, in which the most militantly antimodern strains of Islam are being channeled by the coolest technology the West has to offer.

Here’s a good example. According to the Jihadica website, there is now a special data package produced by the “Mobile Detachment” of the “al-Ansar al-Mujahideen Forum” especially for cell phones. Users can download encryption software, pictures, and 3GP-format video clips with titles like “A Martyr Eulogizing Another Martyr” by the Somalia-based Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen. Also available to users is the electronic magazine al-Sumud (“Resistance”) published by the Afghan branch of the Taliban, and edifying documents—available in both MS Word and Adobe formats—like “How to Prepare for Your Afterlife.” Killer apps, indeed.

Then there is Inspire, the online magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and aimed at aspiring jihadists in the West. In addition to bomb-making instructions, it also publishes target lists of individuals against whom fatwas have been proclaimed.

No one should pretend that these messages do not find receptive ears. In May 2010 Roshonara Choudhry stabbed the British M.P. Stephen Timms after having watched 100 hours of extremist sermons by Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Where did she find these sermons? On YouTube, of course. Al-Awlaki’s other followers include the Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, the Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad.

In short, Google’s pro-democracy Wael Ghonim is probably a less significant figure than Fouad X, the head of IT for Hizbullah in Lebanon, who tells Joshua Ramo (at the beginning of his superb book The Age of the Unthinkable) that “our email is flooded with CVs” from Islamist geeks wanting to “serve a sacred cause.”

So far, so bad. Now here’s the real problem. Many of these same Islamist geeks (among them Al-Awlaki) have hailed the so-called Arab Spring as a golden opportunity. The March 29 issue of Inspire declared: “The revolutions that are shaking the thrones of dictators are good for the Muslims, good for the mujahideen, and bad for the imperialists of the West and their henchmen in the Muslim world.”

The clash of civilizations would have been easy for the West to win if it had simply pitted the ideas and institutions of the 21st century against those of the seventh. No such luck. In the new mash of civilizations, our most dangerous foes are the Islamists who understand how to post fatwas on Facebook, email the holy Quran, and tweet the call to jihad.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's NY Times on derogatory film "Innocence of Muslims" mocking Prophet Muhammad:

For Google last week, the decision was clear. An anti-Islamic video that provoked violence worldwide was not hate speech under its rules because it did not specifically incite violence against Muslims, even if it mocked their faith.

The White House was not so sure, and it asked Google to reconsider the determination, a request the company rebuffed.

Although the administration’s request was unusual, for Google, it represented the kind of delicate balancing act that Internet companies confront every day.

These companies, which include communications media like Facebook and Twitter, write their own edicts about what kind of expression is allowed, things as diverse as pointed political criticism, nudity and notions as murky as hate speech. And their employees work around the clock to check when users run afoul of their rules.

Google is not the only Internet company to grapple in recent days with questions involving the anti-Islamic video, which appeared on YouTube, which Google owns. Facebook on Friday confirmed that it had blocked links to the video in Pakistan, where it violates the country’s blasphemy law. A spokeswoman said Facebook had also removed a post that contained a threat to a United States ambassador, after receiving a report from the State Department; Facebook has declined to say in which country the ambassador worked.
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mpany said, “Facebook’s policy prohibits content that threatens or organizes violence, or praises violent organizations.”

Facebook also explicitly prohibits what it calls “hate speech,” which it defines as attacking a person. In addition, it allows users to report content they find objectionable, which Facebook employees then vet. Facebook’s algorithms also pick up certain words that are then sent to human inspectors to review; the company declined to provide details on what kinds of words set off that kind of review. ...


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/technology/on-the-web-a-fine-line-on-free-speech-across-globe.html

Riaz Haq said…
Growing use of social media is driving political and social activism and significant social change in Pakistan.

Much of the communication and organization of civil society members in support of the lawyers' movement used social media platforms like facebook and twitter.

Pakistan saw the beginnings of online civil and political activism in 2008-2009 when the lawyers, according to Woodrow Wilson Center's scholar Huma Yusuf, "used chat forums, YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, and blogs to organize the Long March, publicize its various events and routes, and ensure that citizen reporting live from the march itself can be widely circulated to counter the government-influenced coverage of the protest on mainstream media outlets (such as state-owned radio and private news channels relying on government-issue licenses".

http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/05/can-bin-laden-raid-ignite-twitter.html

New media have broken stories where traditional media has failed, like Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's son Arsalan's corruption scandal.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2012/06/pakistans-familygate-mediagate-scandals.html

Politicians and their supporters are active on facebook and twitters to organize and get their messages out and influence public opinion and get votes.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/11/imran-khans-social-media-campaign.html

http://www.riazhaq.com/2013/05/election-ads-money-buys-favorable-media.html

New young talent is getting attention by posting its protest music videos online.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/11/pakistans-protest-music-in-social-media.html


Young men in Lahore have organized through facebook to clean city streets.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2009/05/young-pakistanis-inspire-with-public.html

Young men and women are defying old customs of arranged marriages based on parents' choices and going for civil marriages outside their families and biraderies. Some of it is resulting in violence by the old guard as evidenced in more honor killings.

In 1992, the applications for court marriages in Karachi amounted to about 10 or 15, mainly applications from couples who were seeking the protection of the court for wedlock without familial consent, according to Arif Hasan. By 2006, it increased to more than 250 applications for court marriages per day in Karachi. Significantly, more than half of the couples seeking court recognition of their betrothal came from rural areas of Sindh. This is yet another indication of how the entire feudal system and its values are in rapid collapse.

http://www.riazhaq.com/2012/12/violent-conflict-is-part-of-pakistans.html

Flashmobs are becoming more common.

Gays are finding each other through social media and organizing underground gay parties in Karachi and elsewhere.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/23811826
Riaz Haq said…
Social media use in Pakistan is small but growing very rapidly.

Its economic value is hard to gauge now but you can see its use in the start of viral marketing campaigns.

As the number of users grows, companies will start to devote more and more resources to it to generate more revenue and profits.

Here are a few useful links:

http://samramuslim.com/pakistan-social-media-marketing-landscape/

http://tribune.com.pk/story/548285/the-socio-economic-impact-of-social-media/

https://wiki.smu.edu.sg/digitalmediaasia/Digital_Media_in_Pakistan

http://www.juancole.com/2010/05/pakistans-social-media-ban-endangers-economic-growth.html
Riaz Haq said…
Pakistan has vowed to take action against the promotion of terrorism online, but some experts say there is little the government can do about it.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government in January announced a 20-point National Action Plan to crack down on terrorism after the December massacre of 133 schoolchildren at an army-run school in Peshawar. The plan calls for "concrete measures against promotion of terrorism through Internet and social media" and declares a "ban on glorification of terrorists and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media."

The plan does not elaborate on what the "concrete measures" would be, and officials have not outlined the steps.

Tech-savvy militant organizations use Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media channels to post videos, press releases and speeches in support of their agenda.

A Twitter account in the name of Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan posts written and multimedia content almost daily, in English or Pashto. While the account has a tiny number of followers by Twitter standards, at 223, it can be accessed by anyone online.

A media unit associated with the Taliban launched a Facebook page in late 2012 to recruit writers for a propaganda magazine, but Facebook shut down the page a week later, the London Telegraph reported.

There is also a proliferation of anti-Taliban sites, including several pages on Facebook. One, whose title translates to "The Taliban Are Extremists and Oppressors," has 25,420 "likes" or followers.

Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman calls online dissemination of propaganda by militant groups "cyberterrorism." She says the government has moved to block certain websites.

"Only that content would be blocked that is considered a threat to the country's security," Rehman told News Lens.

One such site is a web portal called IhyaeKhilafat, which means "reclaiming an Islamic system of government." Ehsan's Twitter account links to the portal, purported to be affiliated with the central media department of Jamatul Ehrar, a faction of the umbrella militant organization Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

However, attempts to open the site since March result in a page displaying only the message "This Account Has Been Suspended."

The government has proposed legislation that would set up an independent agency to deal with cybercrime, including the use of social media by militants.

"The government has proposed giving authority to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block websites that go against the constitution of Pakistan," Rehman said.

Sana Ejaz, a Peshawar-based human rights lawyer, said militants are using social media "for the propagation of their agenda, broadcasting content against the Pakistani state."

"The social media accounts of militants should be blocked," Ejaz told News Lens Pakistan. "However, blocking is not a lasting solution as users will simply set up new accounts."

Ejaz advocates a "proper counter-response policy," that would include a dedicated think tank, she said.
"The government should establish a social media think-tank team to respond to propaganda of the militants on social media."

Farhan Khan Virk, an Islamabad-based social media commentator, said militants first start sharing religious material on Twitter or Facebook feeds to attract users, then begin broadcasting material against the Pakistani state.

"They mostly broadcast content against the Pakistani military and brand them American agents working against jihadis," Virk told News Lens.

"Extremists are really active on social media," he said.


http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2015/06/16/Pakistan-grapples-with-fighting-terrorism-online/61424260069487/
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan’s #Troll Problem: Girls face online harrassment by unscrupulous men in social media http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/pakistans-troll-problem … via @SimonParkin

Last June, an eighteen-year-old student at Edwardes College, in Peshawar, Pakistan, opened an e-mail to see a picture of her face digitally superimposed on the naked body of another woman. As the student read the attached message, her dismay curdled into panic. The e-mail’s sender, who identified himself by the pseudonym Gandageer Khan, claimed to have hacked into her Facebook account. He threatened to post the photo online unless the student sent him money, in the form of a prepaid phone card, and provided him with the personal details of other female students at Edwardes. When she refused, Khan uploaded the doctored image, along with several others, to a page that he had created on Facebook titled “Edwardian Girls.” Each picture now included the student’s name, her phone number, and a lewd message: “I am available for sex. Call me for a quickie.”

It later transpired that the student was among fifty young women whom the people behind the Khan account—two men, one named Muhammad Ali Shah, and the other identified only as Suhail—harassed and blackmailed for a period of four years before they were arrested, last August. “The whole of Peshawar was aware of what was happening,” Rabel Javed, another of the men’s targets, told me. “Every time a girl would take a picture, we’d be like, ‘I hope Gandageer doesn’t get a hold of this.’ Every girl thought she might be next.” Although some members of Javed’s extended family blamed her for the hack, her sisters were supportive. “They kept reminding me that none of this was my fault, it was actually this guy who was sick in the head,” she said. “I was fortunate. I come from a liberal family. Not a lot of girls are like me.” The subject of the first doctored photograph, meanwhile, claims that her father beat her for what happened, and forbade her from returning to college.

The students, including some sympathetic young men from Edwardes, rallied and began to petition Facebook to remove Khan’s page. “We all just kept reporting, but nothing seemed to work,” Javed said. Although all of Khan’s images had vulgar captions, not all contained indecent imagery. As a result, the arbiters at Facebook, whose closest office to Peshawar is located more than twelve hundred miles away, in Hyderabad, India, claimed that no community standards had been breached. “That’s when I understood there was a language barrier,” Javed said. “The abusive text was written in Pashto.” After months of trying fruitlessly to persuade Facebook to take the pictures down, Javed wrote to Nighat Dad, a thirty-six-year-old Pakistani lawyer, whose organization, the Digital Rights Foundation, provides support to women who are victims of online violence. Dad’s involvement provoked prompt action. Facebook removed the images, and a spokeswoman told me that, following this incident and others like it, the company has grown to “include native language speakers who review content in more than three dozen languages.” Then, on August 17th, the Karachi-based Express Tribune reported that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency had arrested Shah and Suhail. According to Dad, the men eventually settled out of court.

“Online harassment in Pakistan differs from the West,” Amber Shamsi, a journalist in Islamabad, told me. In March, a conservative cleric stated that it was un-Islamic to follow the Pakistani celebrity Qandeel Baloch on social media, because she posted alluring photographs. When Shamsi retweeted a colleague’s claim that the cleric’s edict was genuine and not, as some claimed, fabricated, a group of trolls downloaded her Facebook photographs and used them to create new images labelled “slut” and “prostitute” and “cunt.” This sort of behavior is prevalent on the Internet because it is “prevalent on the streets,”...

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