Bernardo M. Villegas
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Social Media

           As I wrote in a previous column, a recent trip to South Korea heightened my interest in the power of the new global media led by mobile media, internet media and SNS (Social Network Service).  South Korea is the country par excellence that has reached the highest level in the world of SNS.  A few days after I arrived from Seoul, I heard the famous author of Why Nations Fail reply to a question asked by one of our leading media personalities, Maria Ressa, concerning the role of social media in institution building.  The recent visit of Harvard professor James Robertson has been the subject of numerous commentaries in the columns of our dailies.  The main thesis in his bestselling book is that nations fail because they are unable to develop institutions that guarantee good governance and technical or professional competence over the long run, reducing the dependence of society on charismatic or authoritarian leaders

          In response to a point raised by Ms. Ressa, CEO of Rappler--a social media enterprise--the famous author of the best seller remarked that social media is one of the most effective ways of addressing the problem of corruption in media, manifested in the notorious "envelopmental" journalism practised in Philippine media.  Social media can minimize the influence of vested interests and rent seekers on the reporting of news in the Philippines.  As Kim Jin Hyun, former Minister of Science in South Korea, wrote in his paper "New Global Media and Global Peace Building", the world has gone beyond the age of mass media (press media and radio and television media).  Especially in his country, the most networked country in the world, "the existing mass media has fallen or has been falling to minor media in terms of delivery quantity, impact and revenue in many countries.  In particular, SNS such as Face Book, Twitter and YouTube which have more than one billion registered users, has become the first and most powerful global media....with its speed and immediacy of delivery, bidirectional and multidirectional exchange, and infinite possibility of free expression which can penetrate any restrictions.  SNS completely lies beyond the mechanical limitations of old media, such as centralized control, one-way communication, and technical limitation of the scope of delivery..."

          In the Spring of 2011, the whole world was witness to the power of social media in effecting dramatic political transformations.  We all saw the power of SNS to bring down dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East.  There is no question about the usefulness of social media in obtaining more political freedom for previously oppressed citizens of dictatorial governments.   It is, however, still unclear what role SMS can play in the building of democratic institutions in the Middle East and Africa.  Just consider what followed almost immediately after the Arab Spring.  As Dr. Kim Jin Hyun pointed out, " 'Innocence of Muslim', made by an American wildcat film maker in September 2011, spread like wildfire through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube just days before the 11th anniversary of 9/11.  In a matter of months, the U.S. which gave its full support to eliminate dictators during the Arab Spring, through the very same SNS, now became the target as the enemy of the Muslim world.  There followed the unfortunate attacks against the U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya, the sacking of the German embassy in Ethiopia and the murder of the American Minister in Libya..."

          It is obvious that SNS can work both ways.  It can be an effective instrument for the attainment of laudable societal goals.  On the flip side, however, there are cyber crime and cyber path, defined as antisocial disorder...In South Korea, these negative products of social media are illustrated by a portal site cafe which opened last May 2012 showing the wording of "Let's murder," with cruel images on its main page.  Dr. Kim laments that "there are as many as 38 cafes about murder and more than 100 antisocial sites of school violence, rape and burglary in a portal site.  In the last April elections of general assembly members and local government officials, suspicions have arisen about rigged...elections at internet poll first introduced in the process of party candidate decision.  Many dozens of politicians were arrested and are under investigation."

          There is no alternative, therefore, to the painstaking process of values and virtues formation starting from early childhood for the new social media to promote the common good of society, which is defined as a social order that enables every single individual to attain his or her fullest development as a human being.  Parents and teachers must be especially alert in ensuring that the incoming generation of "digital natives" will make use of social media to promote truth, justice, peace and charity, cooperating in building an authentic civilization of love.  As dramatically illustrated by Dr. Kim in his essay on global media, a famous novelist Umberto Eco--author of award winning novel "The Name of Rose"--shocked his audience in an appearance at the Louvre Museum in Paris last July 2, 2012.  He flung his novel and Kindle, an e-book device, from the second floor.  His novel was crumpled but survived the fall but his Kindle, which contained hundreds of volumes of novels was reduced to smithereens.  According to him, culture is a long process which consists of constant selection and filtering.  The intellectually and morally impoverished individuals may lack the ability to perceive trash information and, despite their greater technical training, may be more badly damaged than those brought up in more traditional environments.  Users of SNS such as Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube and smart phones may eventually suffer from their habit of blurting out  comments impulsively and using short sentences, abbreviations and sensual and twisted expressions.  These are the vices of digital natives that have to counteracted by the appropriate child rearing practices and values and virtues education especially in the elementary and high school years.  For comments, my email address is