We live in rapidly changing times, thanks to the technological wonders of internet and social media. As fast as we can click and send, we can broadcast messages to friends, relatives and to just about anybody, anywhere in the world. This despite the fact that Philippines remains the slowest and most expensive – in terms of connectivity – in this part of the world.
In homes, schools, communities, and just about any place where one has access to a computer, an iPod, or a smart phone, every Juan and Maria of practically all ages are sending and receiving messages via Facebook, twitter, instagram, viber, private messenger and what have you.
Social media has become a very powerful tool for communication. And here is where Uncle Ben’s advice to Spider-Man should always be top-of-mind: With great power comes great responsibility.
This message has been re-echoed by Pope Francis. While acknowledging that “the internet, text messages, social networks and chats are ‘a gift from God” as they can be “fully human forms of communication” the Pontiff cautions that we must “use wisely the means at our disposal.”
The papal caveat arises from the very nature of the technology available. Messages – true or not – have the potential of going viral in minutes , if not in seconds. “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of expression,” Pope Francis said.
Social media has become a two-edged blade. On the one hand, it can be used to inform and raise awareness. But it can also be weaponized for spreading alternative truths, revising history, for maligning, defrauding and harming. Social media has given rise to armies of paid trolls who disrupt/ disturb discussions, bash personalities or just simply annoy others.
Wittingly or unwittingly, careless social media participants give out personal information which can expose them to identity theft, financial scams, blackmail, sexual exploitation and security threats.
Because of the foregoing, do we need to give up Facebook and Twitter? Not at all. As long as we do not become mindless. And also for as long as we follow the common-sense advice of practising responsibility in the web: Think before you tweet. Think some more before you re-tweet, share or forward any message.
(The columnist, Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye, is a journalist before becoming a lawyer, former Press Secretary and member of the Monetary Board, among others. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Philippine Islands.)