Pay to forward – the way forward???

Social media these days is in a Meta trip! At least in India, for sure. News in social media is dominated by news about itself.

Day in day out one gets to see news of violence, lynching and even deaths, all in the light of fake WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts and Tweets which get forwarded in no time and whip up a frenzy. Recently, a report said that WhatsApp based rumours have killed at least 22 people so far in India!

These days we also get to see warnings and threats from the ruling executive to these platforms asking them to mend their ways or face stiff action. This is particularly after the Cambridge Analytica expose.

In response, of late we also see news of these platforms showing increasing concern of the misuse and the resulting lynching, deaths and related violence. WhatsApp recently claimed that they were “horrified by the terrible acts of violence and wanted to respond quickly”.

In short, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and more importantly WhatsApp which are also in the business of disseminating news are in the news themselves, all for the wrong reasons! These platforms which were all conceived with a noble intention of “bringing the whole world together” have ended up being misused by the users and the owners alike. In using the platforms to manipulate public opinion, both the sides are culpable.

From the Government side, we have repeatedly seen threats of action. However one wonders, to what extent they can make the platforms accountable apart from slapping fines which some of the Governments have already done. Can they completely ban these platforms considering the fact that social media is completely intertwined with the lives of people today?

Look at WhatsApp. Apart from being a platform for exchanging messages at a personal level, it has become an important tool in business communication as well. Here, WhatsApp is used efficiently and widely, saving time and money while improving “good productivity” (Like good cholesterol and Bad cholesterol, there is a view that WhatsApp improves and on the other hand affects productivity!)  Even in the medical field, reports are exchanged over WhatsApp to save time and thereby probably lives!

Similarly, a medium like Twitter has become the foremost medium for direct communication by political parties and their leaders. For example, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi can afford not to engage with the mainstream media and still get his views across to the public through his tweets or other social media tools a thing which was unthinkable few years ago. Donald Trump could call of a summit dialogue through social media!

Ergo, it’s almost impossible for the Government to just shut these platforms down. And so the way forward is only to work with these platforms to contain the damage.

In response to the call for action, Facebook and WhatsApp announced a slew of measures recently and these also have been in the news. Post Cambridge Analytica expose, Mark Zuckerberg had said that they were committed not to interfere with the elections in India. They reportedly tied up with Boomliv.in a fact checking site in India to filter out fake messages being circulated through Facebook. However on WhatsApp, Facebook has professed that WhatsApp being an end to end encrypted medium, they cannot pore over messages and filter them.

What is certainly visible is a set of actions they have kicked off in India. Few days back newspapers were splashed with solus ads by WhatsApp educating about the use of the medium to tackle the spread of misinformation. Seemingly on cue, there was a rollout of an optional feature by which only the administrators are allowed to send messages in a group.

All of a sudden on my phone, I could see the label “forwarded” since last week on WhatsApp messages which were actually forwarded. Apparently this is another measure to differentiate if a message is forwarded or not. Frankly, I am not sure how this feature will help in preventing people to do a forward! Of course it helps in some of the groups in which I am there, which have banned forwards!

And more actions have followed since. Like empowerment to individuals to report unwanted messages from a user or block a person. On Friday, WhatsApp announced that it is testing a new feature by which the number of times a message can be forwarded will be limited to five! And also plans are afoot to remove the quick forward button next to media messages!

So far so good. The question is, are they good enough? In WhatsApp, the elephant in the room is the anonymity! As long as a sender can hide under the cloud of anonymity of a mobile number, it is difficult to trace the origins of a designed fake message which goes viral.

I must add here that political parties which are also part of the Government use the same tool to spread fake news when it’s convenient to them.

Vivek Wadhwa, himself a technology entrepreneur, in an interesting piece calls for putting the onus of finding a solution to get over this encryption on the tech platforms. As per him, Facebook must be made liable for deaths that have happened due fake messages spread through its WhatsApp platform. As per him, tech companies have always found a way of solving problems when profits are at stake. I tend to agree with him on this.

So, what could WhatsApp do? My simple and at the same time wild suggestion is make forwards or just group messaging chargeable! As long it’s free, we all have fun and indulge in forwarding without giving a second thought. We endlessly forward messages to the myriad groups we are associated, even sometimes not realising that the message was posted by someone else already!

When it is chargeable, we will think twice before hitting the send button. If it’s for a genuine cause or for a business purpose, we must not hesitate to pay! So truly if one wants to control the monster called WhatsApp, make it chargeable!

Will you pay to forward, going forward?

Postscript: As of now it’s still free. If you like the piece, don’t hesitate to hit the forward button when you see it on WhatsApp!

 

Image courtesy: Businessday Media online.

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Facebook – Hook then, Crook now???

Even since Donald Trump became the President of America in 2016, Facebook has been in the news. Almost for all wrong reasons. One being its alleged or now almost certain role in influencing the US presidential elections. On the one hand, is the allegation that Facebook used its staff to curate content on its news feed section so that Pro-Trump content were suppressed. On the other hand, is the role of Russian agents and the now infamous Cambridge Analytica working to promote Trump with targeted posts based on Facebook users’ profiles. In many countries including India, there has been a clamour for Mark Zuckerberg’s head for letting Facebook become a propaganda tool increasingly.

Consequently, we saw Zuckerberg being grilled live during the Congressional disposition over Right to Privacy, misuse of Data, Cambridge Analytica’s role,… What a climb down for a person who was once touted as the founder of the most wonderful thing on earth called Facebook since the Telephone! A platform which helped people across the world connect seamlessly.  A medium to make the world more Open and connected! A platform for sharing content without owning, creating any of it. A major disruption in the way we communicated!

Yet, all that is forgotten now when more and more facts emerge on the way Facebook handles our personal data. Today, Facebook has become one of “mindless disruptions” as someone said! To be fair to Zuckerberg, when he and his friends at Harvard conceived of a platform just to share profiles among Ivy league colleges and then scaled it up to a medium for connecting people, he would not have imagined that a day would come when he would be summoned for questioning by governments on the role of his medium in influencing elections in their countries! This could be added in the list of “What they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School”, by the way! Even in a not so internet savvy country like India, today we are discussing if social media like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp played any role in the recent elections!  How did Facebook a hook then for pulling in and connecting people become a Crook now?

It’s clear that what started off just as a medium for connecting people ceased to be just one. Like other start-ups as Facebook grew, I am sure the usual question – “What’s the revenue model?” became overarching in terms of expanding the scope of the platform and looking at ways and means to monetise the same.  And once the IPO bug bites, as it did with Facebook in 2012, the urge to beat quarter on quarter numbers takes over. Then it becomes a matter of coming up with new ideas like using tools to analyse user profiles and sell to advertisers who can then use that for targeted messaging. And don’t all of them love this? Targeted messaging!

Also many times it happens that a manufacturer or marketer introduces a product for a particular purpose for a certain target Audience while consumers by themselves find other uses for the same. A great example which is part of marketing folklore is Johnson’s baby shampoo. J&J, the company intended its baby shampoo to be mild for use on babies. Research then revealed that the same product was being used by mothers too as they also preferred soft and mild shampoos! Similarly Facebook I’m sure, must not have realised that their platform which was intended for users to share updates in their lives, pictures, personal videos,… will be used for spreading hate messages! Or used to spread fake news. But unlike J&J which I don’t think capitalised on its findings by introducing a mild and soft shampoo meant for adults, probably Facebook played ball. It might have unwittingly or otherwise turned a blind eye to this trend of individuals/groups/organisations with vested interests making Facebook a platform for propaganda!

And we have the language issue! Just in a country like India we have so many languages in which we people converse and write. Can the AI powered bots and tools who keep sifting through terabytes of content isolate fake and propagandist news that keeps appearing on timelines of users?

It’s surprising that Zuckerberg and his team in Facebook waited till shit hit the fan! As users, we all are guilty of the fact that we accept terms and conditions mostly without reading and we don’t care so much to check the privacy settings or any changes thereof. I was surprised to read recently that Facebook has been listening to its users since 2014! And then realised that the microphone setting under Facebook on your phone should be turned OFF if you don’t want Facebook to listen to you!

Having now seen how Facebook deals with our personal data and our activity, should we shun Facebook? Right after the storm, #DeleteFacebook was trending and one saw many announcing to the world that they have quit Facebook. I think just like all aspects of technology, Facebook comes with its pros and cons. Just like say a smart phone. It depends on how we want to use the platform.

Recently Facebook announced that it has tied up with a local fact checking site called Boom live for Karnataka elections. This is seemingly in line with Zuckerberg’s commitment that Facebook will do all it can to “maintain the integrity of elections” in different countries including India.  While this could be a baby step in the right direction, I still feel that in a country like India more than Facebook, its cub WhatsApp is the monster in the room!

I think it makes enormous sense to be discreet on what we are sharing on Facebook or for that matter any social media.  And it doesn’t make sense to click, watch, like, comment or share many of the propaganda videos which keep surfacing in our timelines.

But as far as this piece is concerned you would realise that it’s neither propagandist or manipulative. So please do hit 👍, comment and share in all platforms as much as possible😀😀 Thank you!

A day of Digital Detoxing!!!

It’s not very often that I tune into FM Radio while driving. That space is usually kept for Indian Classical music, Ilayaraja and of late Kishore Kumar. A chance tuning to Red FM 93.5 a few days back spurred an idea which caught my imagination. The station amidst bajaoing the likes of the highly repulsive ‘baby ko bass pasand hai’ and its ilk, was filling in with a new segment called “Prayaas” which they explained was an attempt to create awareness on social causes. So that day’s Prayaas was devoted to what they called as the “digital” disease and described with a funny song how people have fallen into the “Digital Trap” in almost all walks of life. Aimed to be funny, it was thought provoking!

Coming to think of it, it’s a fact that most of the urban and semi urban population world over is today suffering from this “Digitalitis”! It’s an ailment which involuntarily spread itself with technology – first the internet and now the smart phone. Reams or rather terabytes have been consumed on how a day in the life of a human being has changed with the advent of the smart phone, on how a smart phone has made a person dumb and so on. Like the other day in a Coffee shop, one saw a lone guy. No big deal, right? But the surprise thing was he was not checking his phone. And was not on his laptop either. Was just sipping and enjoying his coffee. Somebody commented that he must be a psychopath😄😄. Today, a guy just sitting and having his coffee without being in the “Digital space” cannot be anything else!!!

In these days of waking into your smart phone and closing your eyes in the night after checking and responding to the last messages in the myriad groups in WhatsApp, what happens if you shut yourself “Digitally” for a day? A day of Digital Detoxing??? So that was yesterday for me when I decided to go back to the pre-smart phone days. That means – no WhatsApping even Good morning messages or indulging in weekend banter in at last count 46 groups😄😄. Not logging into Facebook even for greeting friends on Birthdays which I do very religiously now. (For a person who is bad at remembering dates, knowing the Birthdates of near and dear thro FB is a Godsend). No Tweeting, not even the usual satirical one liners (pakau stuff for some)! And no checking the phone now and then (as per the wife – every half a second!!) for business e mails!! And certainly no blogging😄😄

dd2

Having decided to go through this, the first step was to announce this proudly to the wife. (Lest she should not think that her man is not well the whole day😜😜). The immediate reaction was in predictable lines. “One full day of Digital Detoxing??? No Chance”!! I challenge that you cannot cross even few minutes forget a day and all😜” Thoughts of all the past challenges with the wife which you invariably lost came to the mind! But I still muster courage and reaffirm my resolve to be detoxed. So what was my experience???

First up, the digital detox day started off with a bad omen. The tyranny of the I-phone battery ensured that the battery was drained out completely when I got up. So may be that was a good omen!!! After putting it up for charging, I touched my phone only to answer few calls whole of the day! And as an extension to the detox programme, the laptop was firmly entrenched in its bag!

The Omen – Good or Bad notwithstanding, the experience was not bad at all. Not only did I withstood for 12 hours, but went beyond that as well.  It certainly helped that it was a weekend and hence could afford to put away the phone in a corner of the drawing room. Of course there were temptations to check messages in WhatsApp but could resist without much ado.  When you don’t have to catch up with messages in the many WA groups in the early morning, you could get back to the youth habit of reading the newspaper from the “Mast head” to the “printed and published by,…” line. Oops nowadays it is from “one ad for a smart phone” to “another one for an Ecom sale”😄😄. No checking the phone while in signals or traffic jams which is an instinctive thing to do nowadays. Same while waiting in check-out counters while shopping! Could engage with banters with the wife and the daughter without interruptions. The banter went on and on that the wife felt that the regular day was better😄😄. The eyes which get moist in usual days staring most of the time on the laptop screen and straining on mobile screen felt relaxed. From multi-tasking (which is what you end up doing when you are working on the phone all the time) to single tasking, the day was more relaxing I felt.

Couple (only😄) of my friends called to check if all’s well with me – since they didn’t see the 2 blue ticks against messages sent to me over WA all through the day!

By evening, the sister called to check if there was some major fight with the wife at home. (Incidentally the wife also gave a miss to the regular Good morning message yesterday!!!). I had to convince the sister that the situation was quite the opposite – hopefully😄😄

Otherwise nothing much was missed! Today morning, could pick up the thread easily and move on. So maybe I should do it more often. And may be one day isn’t enough to feel the difference. So, to my fellow travelers in the digital age, do try this “digital detoxing”! But please inform your folks in advance that you are on Digital Detoxing😄😄 I will, certainly the next time which is most likely to be for a week!

Postscript:  In Chennai, I came across a restaurant where the patrons have to leave the mobile phones behind in lockers. Last heard – its doing well with the wives😄😄

A WhatsApp’s message!!!

I am myself surprised to witness what has been happening the last 2 weeks. If I add “pleasantly though” to it I will be labelled a sadist. For some time now I have been vilified for many social evils happening in the world. From the time I came to existence though there has been an acceptance (grudgingly if I may add) that I am useful in connecting people from disparate parts of the world, there is also this constant nagging at my back. Of how I waste people’s time, of how I have managed to turn people into being unproductive, of how I have become a tool to circulate mischievous rumours, of how people use me to spread venom, of how I and my clan have even become soft tools in the hands of savvy terrorists and so on. In the company of my more august colleagues we have become one group against which the Governments all over the world have axes to grind. And I hear that they all are putting up plans to do what they do best –“Exert control”. So I will not be surprised if in the coming months/years there are UN summits to discuss laws to control us like the ongoing UN Climate change summit in France aimed at achieving a universal and legally binding agreement on Climate😃 (Does these UN Summits really deliver is a debate you guys should kick-start)

So under the circumstances, what happened or rather is happening in Chennai, India – the unprecedented deluge which hit the city at its heart throwing the city and its people out of gear has been our moment of comeuppance and a decisive one in that. Though it was not my intention to use an unfortunate natural calamity to send a message to our critics, (though sending messages across is my raison d’être) it might have ended up like that. I never imagined that in a short time since I was launched as “WhatsApp” into the hands of many human beings across the world, I would get to play a stellar role at the time of a huge humanitarian crisis like the one which happened in Chenna😄😄i. The crisis is yet over.

WhatsAPp

It is now normal for any individual in Urban India to be part of a few WhatsApp  “Groups”. One’s group range from “Immediate family” to “Dad’s side family” to “Mom’s side relatives” to “Cousins” to “Office team” to “Ex-Employer/s team” to “Living community” to “School” to “College/s” “Hobby” group and so on. And smart people who want to use me for their business have few more groups like customer groups, Vendor group,… And there are short time temp. Groups which are formed for certain events. The “Groups” may be many but I have noticed that the happenings are usually similar. From Good morning, Good night messages, Happy Birthday/Anniversary wishes, and then discussions which happen on and off ranging from being serious/purposeful stuff to frivolous time pass type. And there is this monster type called “forwards” usually taking up most of my server space – motivational messages, philosophical messages, Jokes and memes, articles, chain messages on Gods, those with political messaging,…,… I myself wonder how it would be to watch the same meme on Alia Bhat or Captain Vijayakanth again and again in different groups though I must admit here that they are extremely funny😄. In all this forwarding business, I got sucked into playing a huge part in resurrecting the career of guys like Alok Nath😁. And give a positive connotation to “Viralling” 😁😁. It’s now easy to know the time when one wakes up from the 1st message he/she sends through me. The 1st thing most people on earth do these days is check messages on me – again an accusation hurled at me as an addition inducer. My grudge has always been that inspite of being a powerful tool which is very useful to humanity in many ways what I got associated was that of a spoiler😩.

I guess however from now on things will be different. People put me into productive use in the last 1 week in the time of the Chennai crisis. From sharing updates on the latest weather to important information on road conditions to circulating info about people in distress the forwards were of the critical type. With no TV when power was down, people completely had to depend upon updates on social media. Groups which are generally are accused of gupshup used the forum to reach out to the needs of friends, near and dear. I’m not saying that the same people would not have responded if individually contacted through other means. But media like me which thrive on group communication have a demonstrative effect. The whole feeling of helping and supporting each other gets infectious in a group and end result has a multiplier effect. As the weather in Chennai returns to normal there is a big task in hand for the common public and the administration. Rescue is now over and it’s time for relief, rehabilitation of the affected and recovery to normalcy. Here again I hope to play a big role in being a platform for generating funds and resources from well-wishers all around the planet. If there is an identified agency which is engaged in relief measures, please use me to forward details of them among your “Groups” to raise funds. In the last few days, I am clear that there is no dearth for helpful souls and they are a plenty. To tap them is the crux of resource mobilization and I feel I can play a crucial role in this activity.

While being happy about the role we social media played in diffusing the crisis, I was also pained to see the other side. Like being used to spread wrong information to spread panic. Like forwarding pictures of Thailand cyclone and passing it off as Chennai floods. Like spreading mischievous message that crocodiles from the zoo have escaped (attaching some photo shopped pictures to effect). Like some political parties taking to social media to score brownie points at this hour of grave crisis. But one must not forget that we are a double-edged sword. It doesn’t take a long while for citizen groups to use us and expose the evil machinations of the politicians or their sycophant followers! So, I hope these will stop sooner or later.

From here on I do hope fervently that our group fondly revered sometimes and decried other times as “Social Media” consisting of my good associate Facebook and friends like Twitter is given our due place under the Sun. And folks like you should be proud for using us to play a constructive role when needed😃. So next time if you are bashed by somebody for being on “WhatsApp Chat all day long” don’t be guilty😃😃

Now, liked this?? Please take a minute to “forward” this to your Groups. Thanks😃😃😃

Wen tym & Tech t’frmd E’lish 😊

All languages undergo transformation over time. But it must be only the Queen’s language which has gone through such a huge upheaval of sorts. Makeover of languages happens with changes in grammatical usage, sometimes spellings, addition of new words,.. (Like we keep hearing of new words which enter the lexicon every year – “Selfie” being one such overused word these days!!!) However it must be only English which apart from going through all this also has been metamorphosed due to technology!

Technology can be disruptive. At times the disruptions are by default but most of the times they are by design. I can’t fathom if the disruptions in English language due to technology have been deliberate or they just happened. And I don’t think any other language has been so vulnerable to technology as English. With the advent of computer first and then mobile devices, the face and shape of English have gone through a transformation. Today when you receive a communication either through e mail or through short text, it is possible to guess the age group or the generation to which the sender belongs!!! It can be as polarizing!

The initial days of the mobile phone were quite normal. Then debuted the new tool of communication called SMS (Short messaging service) after which English language has never been the same again. What initially started as a means of super-fast communication using abbreviations and acronyms soon became the norm of the language. And it became so uncool if you are part of the old school typing full words and sentences and doing the mandatory spell check before hitting the “Send” button. I remember pieces appearing in newspapers/magazines,.. that time explaining to the uninitiated the so called “SMS lingo”. In Mid-Day newspaper there was a daily box called “SMS lingo for the day”!!!sms

I mentioned in my opening remarks that English as a language is so vulnerable to technology that the contrived form which came popular while sending the so called short messages soon started pervading into the normal communication as well. So today you will find the acronyms, short forms and abbreviated type of communication being used in normal long e mails, notes, wherever. Even business communication has not been left behind. Is there a day where you spend at work without using “ASAP”, “FYI”, “NBD”,.. ??? One disclaimer like this “Sent from my mobile; please excuse the brevity, spelling and punctuation” is enough to sort of take care of any problems the other side might have! I now wonder what would have happened to the now almost extinct stenography if SMS lingo had made an advent much earlier!!! I also wonder if the “Spell check” tool will soon become superfluous. Because the “Spell Checker” will ink the whole page red. Even now as I write this its almost getting there.

While one has been reconciling to this new reality and had almost concluded that things can’t get worse than this, came the next attack – “The Advent of smileys” 🙂 🙂 🙂 Again what started as a harmless way of expressing joy using 🙂 or sorrow 😦 soon developed into a full language of “Emoticons”. So much so today it is difficult to find any reasonable length of communication without an emoticon. Here again the rupture of the language come through technology. With people spending more time with their smart phones than anything else these days, it has become easier to just input a suitable emoticon from a whole bunch of smileys available today than typing even few abbreviated words.

Ergo I was not surprised when I read this article (read here) some time back which said SMS lingo has now begun creeping into the answer sheets, assignments and even record books! And that, teachers were alarmed to see this. It may be a good idea for the teachers today to keep themselves abreast with the new Lingua Franca! And internet does help. Like Google Translate which helps to translate languages, there is this http://transl8it.com/ . Just type in SMS, text message, emoticon, smiley, slang, chat room/net lingo or abbreviations and “transL8it” will convert it to plain English to understand!!!

With the assault of SMS lingo and smileys on the English language, I can imagine what the future holds for the Queen’s English. The day is not far off when my whole blog post will be with SMS lingo and smileys galore. Nd dis xchnge ment 2 b a jok may jus bcom real’ty!!!

 Boyfriend & Girlfriend on Whatsapp:

Boy:kesi ho…??

Girl: 😊

Boy: missing me..?

Girl: 😜

Boy: yar meri tabiyat khrab hai

Girl: 😱

Boy: aaj kaisa din guzra…??

Girl: 😉

Boy: busy ho…??

Girl: umhm ..

Boy: Koi paas hai…??

Girl: na 😍

Boy: To kuch likh bhi, apne Baap ki shaklein kyu send kar rahi hai….

Girl: 😢😡

Boy: I heard u failed in English?

Girl: Who TELLED you? It is unpossible.. I sawed d result ystrdy… I Passed away 😂

Boy:😁🔫 meri maa tu smiley hi use kar..