| July 19, 2019
Importance of Social Media in shaping public opinion

On Social Media: Few assertions

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In social observations, the (act of) study itself might sometimes alter the outcome. This intriguing idea stems up from the notion that collecting information itself is a social action, and the actual opinions may be altered or solidified even by clean objective questionnaire. For instance, the act of taking an opinion poll for an upcoming election itself might direct people toward certain ways, encourage or discourage them to participate in it, or inspire them to rethink their choices. This and few other muddles have compelled many to argue that social science, like economics, is a dismal science. Maybe it is.

But, this dismality is (positively) its life. In this essay, I had intended to discuss the changes brought up by social media in which this blog is itself a claim.

I was awestruck the day I created a facebook account, and anyone, who uses that service for the first time, might have similar experiences: suddenly, your friends are in reach all the time, your every little frippery finds a medium and you can share, discuss, and claim whatever you like as much as you want. In the recent years, we have seen a plethora of apps, interactive websites, and communication technologies penetrate every corner of our lives and society. By all indications, these are here only to grow and continue claiming their status as an integral part of modern society, if not the dominant one.

The coining "social" media(SM here onward) is misleading for many reasons, but, for these newer technologies, we may not have alternative terms available. Interaction in diverse issues at a cosmic scale and lightning speed -among people who have concerns for the same matters, but would mostly perhaps never meet in person -drives this phenomenon. Rather than one single podium for everything, with freedom to begin any campaign, any discussion, and form communities with any objectives, SM is more and more turning into a "conglomeration of communities" media- with spaces for common concerns being kept intact (by sites like twitter which already have huge political ramifications).

All of this convinces us just how important the "information" is for a society to function. The content of information has changed through ages. What SM adds to this is the speed through which it can be carried, and the manners in which interactions can occur. The results of this is here for all to see; more discussion, more involvement and more action; the society moving ahead in a quicker pace.

What it offers to the industries, whether service or manufacturing, entertainment or education, is endless choices, (something the economists call the "long tail"), immediate feedback, and new effective marketing channels, not to mention the easy availability of consumer behavior information and other production information.

For the humanistic scholarship, this is the greatest possible asset, an image of the times recorded forever. Our own understanding of various things, the prime element of the modern world, has suddenly found a medium to express itself. The world is speeding up.

How much this has infused the Nepalese society can be easily and widely experienced. Developing countries like ours are perhaps its greatest beneficiaries. Along side telecommunications, SM is perhaps the most influential development of our times. The true impact of these can only be understood when they are seen not as an end in themselves, but as means for wider, more substantial social changes. As indicated earlier, it would be easier to point out what has not been influenced. From news to music, local projects to national plans, from family matters to grave social issues, every matter of every consequence has enjoyed more conversations and more discussions. Social reformation has sped up, and campaigns have found a better stage. In the urbans, every school club and every business has a facebook group, and the villages are catching on quick.

The prompt for this blog claims that"Media has played a significant role in shaping our history". On the contrary, ab antiquo, that honour belongs to "lack of media". Ipsa scientia protestas est: knowledge/Information is power. In the feudal days, the administrative, business related and other important activities of general consequence (and thus, information) used to include only the elites. It went to an awful extreme in the Rana rule where education itself was banned! There always seems to be a reluctance to share information related to major social and political developments because the more widely it is shared, wider conversations occur and the public opinion changes- something that can alter everything.

Public opinion is a fairly vague term; the only thing certain about it is the plurality at its core. Free expression, like the one offered by the SM, is the greatest resource it can wish for. While everybody has right to information; public opinion is better kept to unfold and grow on itself. The current surge of online media heavily differs from that of newspapers after the onset of democracy, most of which were lost away in the dark annals of history, in that the current discussion threads are public generated , spontaneous ,and lively-only to grow wider.

The uniqueness of Nepal crowns on that it is both the most ancient and the most modern. The traditions, divisions and dogmas that date back to the earliest civilizations, are still the main driving force of the nation, alongside inclusion and equal rights for all. During the past couple of decades of transition, when the nation was searching its identity, social media was a new great platform for expression and inclusion.

Some arguments take the role of SM to the extreme by wrongly perceiving its possibilities. Before we claim, rather deftly, that freeing information over the internet will gradually solve every social problem, we must remember the virtual nature of social media and that it is, at best, only an aid to the real. Interaction is just a precursor of action, never its alternative. Already in these few years, we have quite often seen public opinions; no matter how massive the campaigns are, being ignored. Free it is, but, it also offers a myriad of ways people can be misguided, or more wryly, manipulated. While information tends to be free, it tends to be misguided as well. Thus, maintaining its neutrality will be the greatest challenge ahead.

SM is certainly not everything, but it can enrich many things, the opinion of the masses being the greatest of them all.

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