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Social Media and polarization of society

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Social Media has witnessed a mushroom growth that has impacted the discourse of political, cultural and religious systems by providing the equal opportunity of freedom of expression and of sharing an opinion or viewpoint on any issue.

Social Media has played a greater role in rightwing politics that paved the way for populist politicians to reach out to their voters.

Though Social Media has connected the people around the world, at the same time, it is causing division or disintegration and facilitating the social media lobbyists to polarize the communication so much the people support the arguments or opinions or political tirades against leaders without fact checking.

The world has been rocked by social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube because the users of these social networks have already surpassed millions and are growing, but due to the limited regulatory framework, fake news, cyberbullying, extremism and terrorism has reached new heights.

The influencers’ interactions with social media users have polarized the political and social circles that led to the formation of online echo chambers, a tactic of social media recommendations by politicians to influence the users to strengthen their narrative regardless of facts that whether it is right or wrong, but it is knit in a manner that echo chambers appear to be normal for the people thus changing the way of thinking and increasing the supporters base.

The echo chambers post such content that we enjoy a lot while reading, while keeping us away from the content that may stir a debate or arguments or expression of our disagreement over certain social, economic, religious, cultural or policy matters.

The echo chambers keep ideas flowing on a regular basis to the one side –the positive side of the argument, while its negative side is deliberately concealed to hide the facts.

This is the big issue that might be discussed with students, who should be informed and taught at school, college or degree level so that positive and constructive use of this digital medium could be ensured.

Social media connectivity around the world is undoubtedly amazing but the problems it created for both people and students are very dangerous, and need to be addressed and regulated.

Digital media, especially social media, for a long time remained unbridled to post any content that may fall in the purview of hatred, racism, bullying, derogatory remarks, character assault, rebellion, or anti-state elements instigating people to create chaos using the olive branch of social media. Since it was not monitored given the type of content being circulated and the information of people posting such content, including their motives behind such content as may have a constant flow of information that is recommended by the users pretending to be professionals, experts and mentors.

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Alarmingly, people without fact-checking go on sharing the content and thus creating hype for such an issue as does not have a basis and was the result of a conspiracy to exert pressure on some person or leaders to get some favours.

The schools and colleges should chalk out the initiative to create awareness and practice of fair use so that social platforms should not post single or one-sided opinions or arguments but should welcome both so that positive use could be ensured. This will further the importance of social media.

Sometimes, the active echo chambers or volcanoes erupt over such issues as may be beneficial for the wider circle of society, but this finds serious criticism masterminded by people with an individual approach. They term it detrimental for them since it did not serve their interests, though it might have been beneficial for general people.

Humans have an intuitional inclination to communicate with like-minded people or the people with the same choices on social media, thus the echo chambers get even stronger. The discourse that discourages dissenting voices always comes under fire from the thinkers and intellectuals of the nation since it is tantamount to concealing the facts from the people.

The world is coming closer after the covid-19 pandemic that engulfed the entire world, bringing misery and economic crisis. The social media debates go with biased and unbiased approaches regarding getting the vaccine. Some optimists termed it great, while some pessimists or biased approaches raised questions.

The echo chambers try to influence their opinions and win support.Similarly, echo chambers of both Democrats and Republicans only canvassed for their candidates but the leaders instigated the masses to attack Capitol Hill through social media and emotional speeches using their influence on social media, especially Twitter .

Some researchers have found that echo chambers influence people to win support but social media influencers have a follower-base of millions, and may polarize the public and politics, since influencers share success stories like internet marketers compelling you to buy their products.

The opinion leaders and experts reveal that for the last two decades, the percentage of American people having consistently holding liberal or conservative beliefs— rather than a blend of the two, which is the case for most people— has increased from 10 percent to over 20. Beliefs about the other side are becoming more negative creating an alarming situation.

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Since 1994, the number of people who see the opposing political party as a threat to “the nation’s well-being or security” has doubled, which heralds how deepening polarization has predictable results raising eyebrows.

The government shutdowns, violent protests, scathing attacks on elected officials, the capitol Hill incident –all indicate that social media have been polarizing the political system and divided the nation each passing day due to echo chambers of both mainstream parties regarding the issues of health, security, human rights, employment and environment.

According to evidence from empirical research conducted on US politicians, politicians following extreme ideologies attracted a larger public audience than those who were moderate, which is the real example of echo chambers.

Usually, messages containing extreme thoughts, emotional instigation, patriotism, or criticizing the opposition received a warm welcome on social media platforms than those messages reflecting merely information.

The polarization of issues and political ideology will have serious repercussions in future that should be addressed on a timely basis so that societies could be saved from further isolation and disintegration.

The issues could be resolved through educating the people and creating awareness about the fair and professional use of social media channels for advocacy for winning support for legislation, an issue, a policy or employment.

Instead of showing the dark side of the issue, we have to educate people regarding both pros and cons of matters of importance for the general public rather than misleading the people with biased approaches to oppose the initiative of the government, community or civil society for the general benefit.

Social Media network operators are the bigwigs and the most influential in this.They cannot be controlled but only  be regulated by framing such laws that  may ensure fair use of this digital platform and are careful so that users may not face any legal issue by discussing sensitive issues such as desecration of holy places, religions, personalities, anti-state tirades, rebellion, terrorism, extremism and so on. The sensitive issue may stir protests and cause legal proceedings, if the cyber-regulatory laws are implemented to discourage the influence of one-sided opinions or campaigns.

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We cannot deny the importance of social media platforms as they provide equal opportunity to people to express and share their thoughts or opinions, but safe and thoughtful use of these platforms will encourage healthy discourse and prove pivotal in promoting dialogue to discuss social, economical and cultural issues peacefully without hitting the sentiments of other communities.

Thus, echo chambers will be less powerful to build a narrative that is appealing but the readers will be engaging themselves in the debates that need interaction.

Undoubtedly, social media platforms have changed the political and social approach of the people and enabled face-to-face digital interaction through video and audio conference calls, so their fair use will mitigate their cons manifold.

The social media networks apply algorithms to connect you with like-minded people but it is up to you whether your engagement in communication is either unbiased or biased.

Social media should be promoting positive discourse to explore the political and economic solutions to the problems of people by reflecting the two sides of the coin so that the discourse be constructive and problem-solving. Social media has given a voice to marginalized people and governments are compelled to resolve the issues of people on a priority basis due to trending topics of social media.

Even the populist leaders may face resistance from social media as the public makes the most of the freedom of expression and criticizes the role of politicians for their failure to address the issues of the public.

In recent times, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have been creating history in highlighting issues of both public and national interest but at the same time such platforms have been taken by storm by those influencers who continue to feed the news about their vested interests and create psychosocial hype for any issue that may jolt the power corridors of Government.

The politicians always take to Twitter for their precise viewpoint and policy debate and are usually followed by millions of followers. Even the print and electronic media take the tweets as policy statements or the narrative of some party or group.

The schools and colleges should chalk out the initiative to create awareness and practice of fair use so that social platforms should not post single or one-sided opinions or arguments but should welcome both so that positive use could be ensured. This will further the importance of social media.

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TikTok begins testing support for paid subscriptions

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TikTok is testing support for paid subscriptions, the company confirmed to TechCrunch on Thursday. As first reported by The Information, the popular short-form video app is exploring the option for creators to charge subscriptions for their content. The feature is part of a limited test for the time being and is not broadly available. TikTok declined to elaborate on the feature or share additional details.

“We’re always thinking about new ways to bring value to our community and enrich the TikTok experience,” a TikTok spokesperson told TechCrunch in an email, when reached for comment.

It’s unclear how the paid subscription model will be implemented in the app. For context, TikTok’s popular algorithmic “For You” page surfaces videos from creators that users don’t follow. If a creator chooses to charge a subscription for their content, it’s likely that their videos won’t appear on users’ For You pages. However, it’s also possible that the subscription will apply to additional content that’s exclusive to paid users, as opposed to being applied to the entirety of a creator’s account.

News of the test comes a day after Instagram launched subscriptions in the U.S. The feature is now in early testing with a small group of creators who are able to offer their followers paid access to exclusive Instagram Live videos and Stories. Creators can choose their own price point for access to their exclusive content. Paid subscribers will be marked with a special badge, differentiating them from unpaid users in the sea of comments.

TikTok’s paid subscriptions test follows recent confirmation that it’s testing an in-app tipping feature on its platform that allows creators to accept money from fans outside of TikTok LIVE streams, where gifting is already supported. Creators who are part of the limited test can apply for the feature if they have at least 100,000 followers and are in good standing. Those who have been approved are given a Tips button on their profiles, which their followers are able to use to send them direct payments.

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The company’s newest test is its latest push toward monetization and helping creators earn a living through its platform. Last year, the company introduced a $200 million fund aimed at helping creators in the U.S. supplement their earnings. TikTok also helps creators sign brand partnerships and sponsorship deals and also provides monetization for livestreams. Considering TikTok’s focus on monetization efforts, it’s no surprise that the company is experimenting with a way for creators to offer paid subscriptions for their content.

TikTok and Instagram’s tests follow Twitter’s launch of “Super Follows,” a paid subscription offering that launched in September 2021. The feature allows users to subscribe to accounts they like for a monthly subscription fee in exchange for exclusive content. Eligible accounts can set the price for Super Follow subscriptions, with the option of charging $2.99, $4.99 or $9.99 per month. Similar to Instagram’s model, subscribers are marked with a special Super Follower badge, differentiating them from unpaid followers.

TikTok, Instagram and Twitter’s paid subscription offerings outline the companies’ efforts to court creator communities. The offerings are also a way for the companies to compete with each other, along with other digital platforms such as YouTube, which offers lucrative ways for creators to make money.

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Crypto currency

Bitcoin ban could backfire on Pakistan

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Pakistanis were third biggest crypto adopters in 2021, pumping up digital currency holdings to more than central bank’s foreign reserves

Pakistan’s central bank has proposed a ban on all forms of cryptocurrency, saying the risks involved in trading Bitcoin, Ethereum and other crypto coins far outweigh the potential benefits.

The State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) “risk-benefit analysis” committee, constituted under a High Court directive, recently announced that cryptocurrencies were depleting national foreign reserves and encouraging illicit financing.

The body, comprised of representatives from the Ministry of Finance, Information Technology, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) recommended a complete ban on virtual currencies and other related activities in Pakistan.

India, which has the second-highest crypto holdings worldwide, is moving in the same direction and plans to ban most cryptocurrencies as part of a proposed Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, likely to be debated in the parliament’s winter session. The legislation aims to establish a framework for an official digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

However, Pakistan does not plan to introduce its own official digital currency to replace existing digital money. Instead, authorities intend to ban all forms of crypto, with proposals on the table to block even the websites dealing in cryptocurrencies.

The SBP committee believes a clampdown is necessary because existing laws governing electronic crimes, foreign exchange remittances and anti-money laundering lack provisions for criminalizing the misuse of cryptocurrencies.

Business leaders, blockchain experts and crypto influencers have countered with a proposal for a digital currency regulatory framework. A blanket ban, they claim, would backfire badly and further damage the economy, which is already in tatters.

Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) former president Majyd Aziz told Asia Times that the government’s mindset of imposing bans to deal with emerging risks was highly flawed. “The authorities seldom figure out the outcome to analyze the risks and benefits of such an action,” he said. “You cannot ban digital currencies before evaluating its impact on the huge investments people made in the digital economy.

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“In my opinion, there is an imperative need for an International Cryptocurrency Regulatory Authority that could run the crypto-related activities in the country. We do not need to ban crypto because the people would still invest in digital currency despite a ban,” Majyd added.

At the same time, he echoed regulators’ concerns in warning, “Greed and lust for fast bucks always result in big-time losses and I pray that cryptocurrency investment may not become another Ponzi scheme.”

Opinion is mixed, however.

Waqar Zaka, a prominent crypto influencer with related online platforms with over four million followers, recently tweeted, “There are minds who are claiming that 20 billion dollars {had} left Pakistan because of Crypto, incorrect. When there is Hundi {system in place}, why {would} anyone want to be on {the} FATF radar? By the way, Facebook {and} YouTube ads are dragging out more dollars from a country where a majority still have no idea about crypto.”

Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (FPCCI) estimates total cryptocurrency investments in Pakistan at US$20 billion, or more than the country’s total foreign currency reserves now held by the central bank.

A FPCCI policy brief, compiled in late December, underscored the risks endemic in the lack of crypto-related legislation and other digital assets in the country. It also noted Pakistan’s trading and lending partners such as China and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have both warned unregulated blockchain technology is susceptible to money laundering and other digital crimes.

The report also noted that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body that fights money-laundering globally, has called on Pakistani authorities to better regulate its crypto industry, as most investors currently use a peer-to-peer (P2P) crypto investment mechanism that renders crypto assets almost undetectable.

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Chainalysis, a blockchain data platform that provides data, software, services and research analysis, reported in October last year that Pakistan recorded 711% growth in crypto-related investments during the 2020-21 fiscal year, even higher than India’s explosive 641% growth.

The robust growth in digital currency holdings has made Pakistan one of the most robust crypto markets outside of Europe and the United States, with Chainalysis ranking the country third on its Global Crypto Adoption Index for the year 2021.

Chainalysis opined that Pakistan’s actual crypto holdings could be even higher than the official estimates because many citizens purchase bitcoin through P2P deals, which mostly remain undocumented.

Meet TripleA, a cryptocurrency and blockchain technology outfit, estimates that over 9 million people, or 4.1% of Pakistan’s total population, currently own cryptocurrencies. The firm claims that interest in Bitcoin, judging by online searches and other measures, has risen following the government’s discussion of new cryptocurrency regulations.

Meet TripleA said that despite Pakistan’s surging interest in cryptocurrency, the country’s potential was is being hampered by low banking penetration and limited proof-of-stake (POS) terminals for processing transactions and creating new blocks in a blockchain. Even so, the outfit said the bitcoin market is a “fast-growing sector of the economy.”

Regulatory screws are already tightening on crypto-trading platforms. Last week, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said it approached Binance Holdings Limited, one of the world’s biggest Bitcoin hubs, as part of an investigation into a suspected $100 million scam.

The agency claimed that several thousand Pakistani investors had been cheated through “fraudulent online investment mobile applications” and money transferred to at least 26 suspect Binance blockchain wallet addresses. The agency directed Binance to give the details of these blockchain accounts and mark a lien on the funds.

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Soon thereafter, FIA director-general Sanaullah Abbasi said during an SBP briefing in Karachi on January 15 that the agency would soon block websites dealing in cryptocurrencies to prevent fraud and possible money laundering.

The meeting was informed that there was no section of law available in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, Foreign Exchange Remittance Act 1947 (FERA) or Anti-Money Laundering Act 2010 (AMLA) to criminalize the misuse of cryptocurrency.

The meeting also observed that there was no regulatory framework for virtual asset service providers to comply with FATF requirements.

China, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Oman, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia have all already banned crypto transactions, while 42 other countries, including Algeria, Bahrain, Bolivia, India and Pakistan have implicitly banned digital currencies by restricting banks and cryptocurrency exchanges from dealing in the digital assets.

In 2018, Pakistan’s central bank declared that it had not authorized or licensed any individual or entity for the issuance, sale, purchase, exchange, or investment in virtual currencies like bitcoin and others. Digital currencies, SBP said at the time, were not a legal tender issued under the bank’s guarantee.

The SBP not only prevented banks from processing, using, trading, holding, transferring value, promoting and investing in virtual currencies but also advised them not to facilitate their account holders’ cryptocurrency transactions. Now, that regulatory noose will likely tighten into an outright crypto ban.

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EQUIPPING YOUTH WITH DIGITAL SKILLS IS NEED OF HOUR: IT MINISTER SYED AMIN UL HAQUE

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Federal Minister for IT and Telecommunication Syed Amin Ul Haque has said that equipping the youth with digital skills is the need of hour.Federal Minister for IT and Telecommunication Syed Amin Ul Haque was addressing Agreement Signing Ceremony between Ignite and Virtual University of Pakistan for Launch of DigiSkills 2.0 Program here on Monday. The agreement was signed by CEO Ignite Asim Shahryar Husain and Rector Virtual University of Pakistan Arshad Saleem Bhatti.  He said Pakistan is the 4th fastest growing country in terms of freelancers and their earnings in the world. 

He said youth are our assets and Ministry of IT & Telecom is taking steps for the development of youth.Government is striving hard to extend full support to the freelancers in ease of doing business, bank account opening, bringing foreign remittances to Pakistan and availability of seamless internet connectivity across the country, he added.

Federal Minister appreciated the DigiSkills results, saying that DigiSkills has played a commendable role in equipping emerging and existing freelancers with knowledge, skills, tools and techniques necessary to seize the opportunities available internationally in online freelancing market places. About IT exports, Federal Minister Syed Amin Ul Haque said that strong measures are being taken to increase IT exports.He said that empowerment of women is important motto of Ministry of IT.IT Minister also gave directions for the completion of all projects in transparent manner and on time.

Speaking on the occasion, Secretary IT Dr. Sohail Rajput said that after the success of the first phase of DigiSkills, the second phase will prove an important milestone.Earlier,  Rector Virtual University Dr. Arshad Saleem Bhatti said that in the second phase, DigiSkills is targeting to impart 1,500,000 trainings over the period of two years. 

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 Speaking on the occasion, CEO Ignite stated that inclusion of 5 new courses and upgradation/renewal of existing 10 courses will equip the freelancers with knowledge necessary to seize the opportunities available on global freelancing marketplaces and with the direct clients as well. 

It is worth mentioning here that, Digiskills is Pakistan’s premiere online training program that has already imparted 2.2 million free of cost trainings in freelancing skills. 
Officers of Ministry of IT, Ignite and Virtual University were present on the occasion./ Ends

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