Anyone can be a reporter these days. Given the high growth rate of internet users, information can no longer be neatly categorized. Flow of information is not only fast but also available for anyone to contribute to it. These days anyone can update his status, upload new photos and write a blog post. Information has become a lot more accessible for people and moreover, more people are able to create information. This is why the internet is a very convenient tool in shedding light on various events in the public eye, and, unfortunately, promoting false information.
BBC reported on Tuesday, November 19 that: “…at least 22 people have been killed by a large blast in a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, with some 140 more reported wounded.”
After receiving this piece of news I became curious as to people’s reaction toward this tragic event. Most of the pieces of information that I read from different sources were a bit different from each other. But, they were reporting about the same incident. However, I didn’t notice anything different when I turned to social media sources, or when I read a couple of posts on twitter and facebook. I did not see people speaking or discussing anything, neither did I have a casual encounter with anyone on campus on this topic, nor did I initiate such topic for discussion.
During one of my classes, one of the students asked the professor of his opinion on the incident, but he refrained from answering by saying that at the moment he doesn’t know what happened exactly and that the different news outlets were reporting different things. And that was true; nobody at this point knew exactly what was happening. In this way, there was no visible reaction from the people, life continued in unaffected areas of Beirut. However, people have updated their facebook statuses, posted their opinion on other social media profiles. And the following posts appeared on my news feed on facebook (several hours after the explosion):
Clearly, life was not disrupted in other areas of Beirut but that was not because the public was uninformed about the situation. It was probably because people did not know how to act in this situation or how to react to it. But people still wrote about the explosion and made an effort to make it appear on social media. People wrote their condolences, their thoughts and opinions.
Online, every internet user automatically becomes part of this big network; a network full of random information. There, every person is free to express themselves (for the sake of self-expression only), initiate discussions and spread information. This does not mean that people necessarily intend to start a movement, a revolution, or initiate a protest. People in this case do not need to create chaos and destroy their current structure. People simply invest their subjective knowledge/information to a place where people do not care about the source but care more about the content of information. People respond to public concerns that they support or agree with. They do not follow blogs or pages just because they like the author (sometimes we don’t even know who the author is). They follow them and read their stuff because they somehow agree with their statement or find their opinion interesting.
It seems that online, the source does not matter as much as the content.
This is why Kant wrote that People must be free to develop their opinion through “personal reasoning” and transmit it to public platforms for the sake of expressing their opinion. Ideally, the governing body or an individual authority must read or hear about those opinions and consider them before making a decision that will affect the people. Information is no longer in the hands of the hegemonic minority but also in the hands of the majority—the people, as well. Hopefully, this type of power will be used for the public good.
Will social media be used for proper representation of public’s opinion in the government or will it be used against individual (intellectual) freedoms?
Are we just sponges that absorb information or are we also creators of information that can be communicated to many other people? Probably, we are both.
Even though people on the streets of Beirut did not react to the explosions, I’m sure everyone had something to express.
With the emergence of social media the access to information is not only easy but is also, under the influence of the public. How this information will be used: to help the people or vice versa probably depends on us. Hopefully, the ideas of Enlightenment discussed by Kant centuries ago will finally see the light in present age and people will not only be in possession of different types of information but also know how to read them and use them for the benefit of the public. And freedom of expression will finally be possible.
“…man does not violate the duties of a citizen if, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his objections to the impropriety or possible injustice of such levies”.
“I call “private use” that use which a man makes of his reason in a civic post that has been entrusted to him. In some affairs affecting the interest of the community a certain [governmental] mechanism is necessary in which some members of the community remain passive. This creates an artificial unanimity which will serve the fulfillment of public objectives, or at least keep these objectives from being destroyed”.
Akbota Kalekenova is a regional intern of the World Youth Alliance Middle East.