THERE was a time whenever anyone wanted to catch the latest news, they would sit in front of the television at exactly 8pm to catch the prime time news. Or they would go buy a newspaper at the newsstand.
But today there are various social media platforms on the digital network that can be accessed where people can seek out or share current information.
According to Dr Julian Hopkins, a lecturer in communication at the School of Arts & Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, it is important to note the evolution of social media communication as it would give an insight into future sociodynamics.
“It’s essential that we understand how people are sharing and consuming media because the way we do so is basically how we create culture. Humans are social beings and the relationship in society is underpinned by how we communicate,” he said.
“And with the developments in social media, it is crucial that we develop social media literacy,” he highlighted.
Hopkins said universities need to do research on social media communication so that they can help shape policies on how educators can teach students — young kids, secondary school students as well as university students — how to understand content on social media and how to use the platforms in the best way possible.
“People can use the knowledge in different ways and for different purposes. But, as I see it, they need to be taught on what sort of information that could be trusted or emphasised on. It’s not just everything out there,” he said.
He stressed that young users of the Internet must be taught about the language of algorithm employed by social media apps.
“There’s a certain way that a particular type of content is being pushed to a user. This is becoming an issue so we need to teach children social media literacy. Empower the students and the teacher on how to make a decision on what is real and what is not. Not everything posted on social media is real, it is only a part of life and may not depict the whole 100 per cent,” said Hopkins.
Dr Ruth L.T. Ong, a senior lecturer in applied linguistics at the Faculty of Languages & Linguistics, University of Malaya, said social media development is also affecting the use of language.
“Elements like emoticons are replacing fully spelled out words or sentences. Even numbers as in ‘2moro’ for ‘tomorrow’,” she remarked.
The context in which people communicate is also changing, said Ong.
“Social media is fast becoming a platform for business and also for like-minded people to flock together and discuss common interests. For example, when people share a common problem, they form forums or blogs where they can share and air their grievances. It’s like a self-healing process and it’s interesting how social media is changing the way people react to things,” she said.
For news, Ong said, many people no longer want to go to official sources but would rather access it through applications like Facebook where colour has been added to the original text through comments and replies.
Ong and Hopkins had earlier collaborated on an academic survey on social media and Snapchat use among students in Malaysia. Said to be the first in the country, the month-long survey was a multidisciplinary, cross-campus collaboration of researchers and graduate assistants — covering 422 students from Malaysian public and completed in March.
“Before the survey, I was carrying out some research on all social media use and comparing social media use and from the people I interviewed, Snapchat kept popping up and I got interested,” said Hopkins.
Literature on Snapchat is mostly western-based, said Ong, and that the survey carried out is the first in Malaysia.
Snapchat is a multimedia application that differentiates itself from other social media by automatically deleting images and messages after they have been viewed. Snapchat informs the sender if the shared content is screenshot. Snapchat’s auto-delete function is one of its top three favourite features, the survey shows.
Snapchat is mostly used by millennials to casually share small and fun moments.
Hopkins said for most of the younger generation, the so-called digital natives, life without social media is equivalent to an isolation cell.
“Anthropological studies show that sharing stories, emotions and memories is an essential part of being human. Snapchat’s auto-delete function offers users the ability to share everyday mundane talk without having to worry about it going viral,” he said.
From the survey, it was found that the average Snapchat user is likely to believe that there is about fifty-fifty chance that anything they share on Snapchat — the increasingly popular ephemeral social media platform — may be viewed by unintended persons. Results also show that users’ Snapchat networks are intimate and 68 per cent will change the default setting to only share their “Stories” with their “Friends” instead of “Everyone”.
The research also looked into the usage of other social media and found that the top three preferred social media platforms were Facebook (38 per cent), WhatsApp (34 per cent), and Instagram (12 per cent). Amongst these, WhatsApp was the most trusted with regard to privacy, and up to 20 per cent do not seem to trust any social media platform.
In conclusion, Hopkins has this to say: “The question still remains as to whether it will ever be possible for social media users to have full confidence in sharing content online, or should we give up any expectations of privacy online as the Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has argued?”