Being morose about social media

It must be Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion: How not to Liberate the World that’s making Unspun’s view of social media rather morose these days.

Morozov acknowledges the benefits f social media but takes a very cold hard look at what he considers Social Media Utopianism – the belief that social media is the panacea to many of the world’s ills like authoritarianism.

It is a fascinating book because it strips bare many of the wide-eyed claims of what social media can do to liberate the world. he also exposes the dark underbelly of social media – that it has and can be used by authoritarian governments to monitor and control its subjects even more efficiently.

His idea that social media has also become, at certain levels, the new opiate of the masses is also spot on.

All this has effected Unspun, who’s sense that there is something off kilter with the way many people use and view social media is off kilter and things will unravel, if not already, then soon.

Perhaps because of this some new stories on social media have stood out for Unspun lately.

One of them is the story on how Groupon, once a much admired social media business model has lost it luster. Some time ago everyone thought it is a good idea. Now it does not look so good because the companies that have given discounts find that they are the victims of discount hunters, rather than the beneficiaries of a good promotional campaign.

And in Indonesia, there is the badly headlined story: Click activism, small effort that makes a difference . It was meant to be an upbeat story on how Indonesians are using social media for the greater good, but read between the lines and there seems to be failure just under the veneer of excitement and social movement.

It quotes researcher Merlyna Lim pouring cold water on the Prita Mulyasari case, held up by many social media practitioners (including Unspun in the past) as a successful example of what social good social media is capable of.

The celebrated “success” of the one million-strong Facebook movement for Prita Mulyasari, a woman sued by a hospital for defamation, and the support movement for anti corruption movement have not really changed policies, she said.

Prita was brought to court again after the Supreme Court favored an appeal filed by the prosecutor, but she did not have to serve her sentence.

She also cites another couple of examples of elusive “success”

Efforts to mobilize a “coin movement” for Lapindo and support for the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect whose members who mobbed and killed in February, have not yielded large numbers, she said. A recent lonesome-looking effort is the Facebook campaign for “Vanishing persons” in the witch-hunt period against suspected communists.

What happened? Perhaps the social media enthusiasts in this country, like their counterparts the world over, are guilty of cyber Utopianism, talking up the achievements of social media based on the amount of noise it makes in the echo chamber of social media users?

Merlyana has good advice for those still out to make a difference in society:

“Reality of transformation” does not lie in cyberspace alone but also together with face-to-face meetings, Merlyna said.

Is this a timely call to sanity, for all of us to take stock of the potentials and the limits of social media? For us to face the fact that while social media, like all technology, can increase efficiency, reach and scalability, one still needs old fashioned offline clarity of strategic intent, offline interactions, pure hard work and staying the course to active change and success?

Perhaps. Which is why the story on Mashable was quite uplifting for Unspun. It tells the story of how Mashable, once a one-man blog started by Peter Cashmore is steadily gaining clout.

How did he do it?

Mr. Cashmore acknowledged the challenge, but said he was struck by something Mr. Wiesel had said about the importance of waiting, a concept that seems to be disappearing, he said, during this time of rapid change.

“Waiting has value,” he said. “And some things change and then there are things that stay the same.”

Fade into black and white images of Bogart in the movie Casablanca with the lines from As Time Goes by: The fundamentals still apply, as time goes by…

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