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Citizen Voices Media Politics

Reality, Illusions & Social Media

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What is real? What is not real? These two questions look nice and simple for any person who stumbles upon them, but if ruminated upon with a deep and profound attitude, the answers may not seem to be so straightforward and direct. So, coming to the questions posed before us: what is real? Simply put, anything that exists in the abstract and physical realm which can be seen, felt or touched is considered to be ‘real’. For example, a vehicle like a car is real, because it exists in the physical realm: it can be seen and also its presence can be detected by merely touching it. Emotions like love, anger, joy, sadness etc are abstract, but they can be felt by any person. Hence they are also real.

Now, coming to what is not real. It is the complete opposite of the concept of real. Something which doesn’t exist in the physical and abstract sense is considered unreal or imaginary. For example, the O’Neill Cylinder, a high-speed rotational chamber in which humans can live in Outer Space, is a theoretical concept which doesn’t exist in real life, neither in the physical or the abstract realm, because it cannot be seen, touched or felt.

Another understanding of real and unreal can be taken in the light of our current issues. Any issue that undeniably and unequivocally exists or has happened is considered to be real. For example, 2016’s Brexit is real, it cannot be denied and its occurrence is not unreal and unambiguous because it certainly did happen. Unreal? Something which didn’t happen in the arena of current affairs despite all the hullabaloo around it. For example, India’s claim that it destroyed ‘terrorist hideouts’ near Balakot in Pakistan in February 2019 is false because there is no incontrovertible evidence that any so called hideouts were destroyed.

A question is often raised as to whether social media give us an altered image. First of all, it has to be admitted and appreciated that social media is a landmark invention of the 21st century. Its effects and consequences have been unprecedented and insurmountable. It is the engine that has moved the world to the position of a ‘global village’.

So, can social media give us an altered image? Absolutely. Social media has various platforms which have been reported to be promoting extremely biased narration of events and propaganda, both socially and currently. This has played an undeniable role in altering the mindsets of people to attain certain political and social motives. The 2018 Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is a prime example here. Cambridge Analytica reportedly infiltrated into the Facebook accounts of millions of people and used their data for political purposes, presenting altered viewpoints of the 2016 US presidential candidates. The scandal was so colossal that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to appear before the US Congress. The Russian hacking scandal is also another example from the 2016 US Presidential elections.

Another example on social media is the April 2019 propaganda against the anti-polio drive in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The idea was spread through various pages on Facebook that parents shouldn’t get their children vaccinated as the vaccine causes life-threatening complications. This was absolute false propaganda. But nonetheless, it achieved its aim of making parents fearful about the vaccine and preventing their children from being vaccinated.

It is incumbent upon the viewer to look for the truth and not fall prey to misinformation. It is also advised to resort to genuine and well-known sources for information, rather than vague and lesser-known sources on social media.

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Naya Daur