Social media is increasingly becoming the go-to barometer to take the temperature of society on just about any issue imaginable.
The explosion of online debates on the same-sex marriage issue in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere in the British Overseas Territories, is an indicator of changing trends in how our societies interact.
While it does not replace the social values of person-to-person or group human contact, social media augments that by its sheer accessibility.
Not being able to be physically present is no longer a determinant of participation particularly in situations where some type of on-the-spot physical activity is not required.
But as a venue for debating, researching, communicating and sharing ideas, opinion and information, the likes of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram etc have revolutionised how we communicate.
And this aspect of modern technological revolution is on the scale not seen before, especially in how we communicate and relate to each other across the globe.
That’s why issues such as same-sex marriage carry so much weight and interest. Many of these local concerns are being channelled through a global prism - and vice versa.
Understandably, for the good it brings social media as means of interaction has its drawbacks. Loosely or outright unmoderated forums top that list.
How we use our own filters to block content which don’t correspond to our worldview of what’s acceptable - some of it downright reprehensible - is a matter of individual judgement.
It’s one thing to ‘debate from a safe distance’ but there are valid concerns over cyber-bullying, access to restricted content, security (at the personal, organisation and state level), copyright infringement, data protection, and safeguarding children.
But if you know what to look for, what you are looking for and where to look for it, social media is an excellent research tool offering insights into what makes a community tick.
It also offers a 360-degree observation from an equally safe distance.
Because of its global reach and easy access, real-time - or at least up-to-date observation - is just a matter of clicks away.
It’s the immediacy and inter-activity which is driving the way in which social media has revolutionised not just media, but global communication and connectivity at the people level.
We are all now truly global citizens, and if the internet has made the world a global village, social media has made it a mega-conference hall - and exhibition gallery - in a global city.
However, the global meeting pace that social media offers risks being a victim of its own success.
Serious and valid questions are being raised about its free-for-all platform not just to exchange views but for some of the less savoury aspects of online interaction.
Companies responsible for social media sites are already under pressure and are taking action to monitor and remove such content where it appears.
But it’s a delicate balancing act between free speech and the rights of the individual, organisations, businesses and the agreed and legislated good of the community.
In our open, especially western, societies freedom of speech is a human right we hold very dear.
But with that freedom comes tremendous responsibility.
Social media can be judge, jury and executioner…if we allow it to be.
It’s up to us.
Or could it be that the communications revolution that is social media is simply holding up a high definition mirror to the local and global societies that we live in?
A case of we looking at us?
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