Is Social Media Good or Evil? Or is the Purpose of Utilizing Social Media Good or Evil?

A point of view from Chinese Social Media…

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

When Facebook was enmeshed in the scandal of improperly sharing 87 million people’s data in 2018, the CEO of China’s biggest search engine Baidu, Robin Li, claimed that “Chinese people are more open, or are not that sensitive about privacy. If they can exchange privacy for safety, convenience, or efficiency, in many cases, they are willing to do that.” This announcement had irritated millions of netizens in China; they showed their anger on social media, and the government’s media also criticized Li’s words. However, while the Chinese showed their rage about these words, the question is, do Chinese people really care about their privacy as much as their rages?

Well, in my opinion, the answer is NO.

Notice, but just let it go…

Like the Netflix documentary Social Dilemma has pointed out, in this social media world, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” Is it creepy that when you text with your friends about a product from one specific brand on WeChat(a Chinese social media app), then see this brand’s commercial in your Moments Feed (like Facebook Timeline or Twitter News Feed)? Even creepier, when you talk with your friends in person about practicing calligraphy, and then you find the recommendation of calligraphy tools and materials are on your shopping app's main page? This phenomenon means these Big Tech companies not only collect your data from the profile and posts and even monitor what you are texting with your friends and what you say with your friends!

This problem is a ubiquitous topic that the Chinese people are always complaining about how horrible it is and then do nothing with it. YES, literally, DO NOTHING. I mean, we cannot leave social media just because it monitors us, right? It actually doesn't affect any part of our lives but provides us with more related information (although most are advertisements). So the easiest and most convenient way to deal with it, maybe… just let it go? I think this is the most common mindset among most Chinese people, including me. As Robin Li said, yes, we are too lazy to think about the potential problems and be too lazy to fight for privacy. Just noticed, and let it go!

Hey, Big Brother is Watching you!

Photo by Murai .hr on Unsplash.

However, in 2020, something happened and showed that things were not such simple…

Social media is not just a place that platforms use your information to earn revenue but also a place the government can monitor you with the claim “to protect you from fake news and other potential dangers to society.” Most of the time, we get used to these regulations and sometimes even make jokes about this. But things changed when the COVID-19 pandemic burst out in Wuhan.

Awaken from the control

Li Wenliang, a normal ophthalmologist from Wuhan, was one of eight “whistleblowers” raising awareness of early COVID-19 infections. But he had been summoned and admonished by the authorities because he “making false comments on the Internet about unconfirmed SARS outbreak” to his friends in a WeChat group. This “false comment” eventually turned out as a big warning for society. But Dr. Li had been killed by the coronavirus. This incident had raised a huge wave of anger and grief that flooded into Weibo(a Chinese social media site). People started to notice that you could be accused of something you said privately to your friend on social media, even it’s not “fake.” Chinese netizens posted with the hashtags "Wuhan government owes Dr. Li Wenliang and apology" and "We want the freedom of speech" on social media and made these on the top trending despite both hashtags were quickly censored.

Yes, the scarier thing than using your information to make money is that Big Brother keeps watching you on social media and has the power to control what you can say or not.

However, there is a silver lining…

But there is also a shining moment in social media during the pandemic. A moment that shows the power of social media to help people make their voices.

A Chiese magazine, Renwu, had posted an interview of another “whistleblower,” Ai Fen, on their social media about her criticism of the Wuhan government’s reaction during the outbreak. It’s not a surprise that the Chinese government had soon censored this interview as well. But this time, Chinese netizens didn’t just let it go.

They created different kinds of this interview with emojis, Morse code, even Oracle to circumvent censorship and spread them virally. These recreations are totally artworks! Somebody even praised this phenomenon as an extension of modern Chinese artist Xu Bing’s work “Book from the Sky.

The creative work from Chinese Netizen of Ai Fen’s interview

I was shocked and passionate about how people care about this issue and how they react to this issue. It was so powerful and unbelievable that it could happen in this country. But it did! We cannot ignore that these could happen because social media gives everyone a voice! Social media provide you with equality to show your opinion to the public.

Yes, there will be monitors and regulations to eliminate people's voices; however, it’s great that all the people who have seen what has happened on social media will imprint this in memory.

Well, what can we do?

As Sinan Ara, the author of The Hype Machine, has mentioned in the “The Prof G Show” podcast, the question of social media is not about its Good or Evil, but how can we do with it? Yes, we can control the common social media drawbacks, like fake news and the big tech companies, with regulations or data and information portability. But what can we do when the regulation is evil itself? In my opinion, the answer is always critical about the things on social media; constantly hone yourself’s ability to recognize what is true or not; and take social media as your superpower to show your thoughts and attitudes when the regulation needs to be broken.

See you next blog!

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