Towards a More Responsible Use of Social Media
In this day and age, where the digital and information technology grows at a pace that shapes our present and future, let us take a moment to pause and think: as youth, how should we take responsibility as everyday users to ensure that we critically engage through social media? Social media has turned around everyday lives and has rapidly expanded, globally, over the last two decades. Sri Lanka is no such exception to the advancing social media environment, when seeing an increase of 23% of social media users just during the last year. In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, social media has proven to be an effective tool to battle against the daily struggle of fulfilling household demands by helping us to stay aware of current affairs and also stay in touch with our loved ones in these difficult times. However in Sri Lanka, as in many other countries, social media is also used as a mean to mislead users away from reliable information during the pandemic . #StrongerTogetherSL was initiated by the Asia Foundation, in partnership with Sarvodaya, with the aim of creating awareness among youth to be responsible social media users and to encourage young people to take stand against issues such as online disinformation and hate speech, while showing that we are stronger when unified. Based on the values curriculum developed by the Foundation, the campaign also focuses on the need to embrace core humanistic values during critical times such as the pandemic and the importance of creating a better and safer environment for all. Evidently, it is no better time than now for users to be conscious of the social media environment. Aiming to achieve this, #StrongerTogetherSL team partnered with Hashtag Generation to conduct a webinar themed ‘Critical Thinking in the Digital Age’. The webinar seeks to inform the Sarvodaya youth facilitators involved in the project on social media literacy by providing them a better understanding of how online platforms function and how they could be critically used, especially in the context of discrimination and disinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar took place on May 20 and 21, 2021, and was conducted in both Sinhala and Tamil. To understand the current context pertaining to social media, understanding how it started and how it evolved to where it is now, is crucial. Although social media has enhanced our daily lives, the negative impacts it caused is often considered to be excessive and disproportionate. These negative impacts were aggravated during the pandemic which led to tensions both online and offline. During the webinar, the facilitators were enlightened on the offline narratives reflected on social media and how online conversations on these topics could have effects in the real world. Examples of posts that were created based on various incidents that took place during the past few years in Sri Lanka were shown to explain how social media users could be misled with very little information. Hate speech, disinformation and advocacy for violence are some of the harmful narratives that were touched upon during the session. The webinar also discussed concepts such as the freedom of expression of all users and how it should be used responsibly. Hence the importance of verifying all information received prior to sharing or taking action. The webinar allowed facilitators to identify how to spot fake information, verify information before sharing, report on Facebook and ways in which they could respond to harmful narratives. The participants responded positively to the content shared in the webinar. They realized how their actions on social media could inadvertently harm an individual or a community if not responsible, and improved their ability on analyzing such matters and gain an accurate understanding of any misconceptions they may have formed. This discussion helped lay the groundwork for the upcoming rollouts of the Foundation’s values curriculum which seeks to provide the necessary tools for youth to responsibly counter online misinformation and disinformation.