12 Jan 2018

Social media is weaponized in a disconnected world: Prof. Jensen

One cannot attribute the evils of social media to human nature, Prof. Richard Jensen of the University of Texas, Austin, said today.

“Human nature is affected by the sociopolitical systems they live in and by the rewards and punishments built into them. So the question is what the rewards and punishments are and not just how human nature works.

Social media have been weaponized,” he said at a public lecture on “Is social media a threat to democracy”  organized by the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru. “We need to find ways to break out of the cycle.”

“The Internet intensifies negative aspects of human nature. Social media is a reflection of the world we live in, and the intensification of some negative aspects of society,” he said.

Prof. Jensen emphasized how it is not the tool, but the manner of its usage that renders it harmful or not. There is no straight answer to whether social media is a threat to democracy or not. However, the easy manner in which the users are affected by the shallow and disembodied nature of social media is worrisome.

Social media isn’t a great tool for making deep social connections. “For most of human evolutionary history, human beings lived in hunter-gatherer groups of 100 to 150 people. Therefore, we’ve evolved with deep connections to people. Whereas social media does not tend to engender deep ties between people. It’s shallow in comparison,” the professor of journalism said.

Prof. Jensen expressed his strong support for the #MeToo campaign.

“We need to be critically self-reflective so as to not give into the prejudice of the modern and naïve belief in progress. The notion that all shiny gadgets mean progress is a serious dogma,” he observed.

The talk was a followed a question-and-answer session where Prof. Jensen answered questions on diverse issues.

The talk was streamed live on IIJNM’s Facebook page.

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