Digital Media: The platform that helps us build and destroy at the same time

Tapping on the news alert on your phone and reading the latest headline comes naturally to us now. However, things were not always so convenient. News or for that matter any content was served to audiences through a fixed schedule of delivery as per the editor’s choice. From that fixed menu to a buffet of content – the journey of digital media is not only exciting but also society altering in many sense. In true sense it has democratised the world and at the same time opened up multiple Pandora’s boxes for authorities, parents and citizens themselves. While you now have content on your demand, the trustworthiness of that content has become questionable. Digital Media is a powerful tool that can unite and divide citizens at the same time.

Digital Media: Making content democratic

When the concept of Web 2.0 came in, it brought with it the most powerful technological advent in the online space – ability to publish content and receive feedback. Blogs, the early platforms became powerful tool for content creators. Anyone could create a news website, opinion website and publish and then gets read by people across the world and receive feedback in the comments section.

Initially, the big media houses tried controlling the content narrative on web but with very low entry barrier in starting a blog or even a website, digital media helped creating a democratic environment for journalists and all other content creators.

This gave rise to a number of local journalism platforms. Stories that were never covered in mainstream media started coming to light. Citizen Journalism platforms like Oh My News helped creating the alternative medium for telling people’s stories through people.

Google’s blogging platform Blogspot saw millions of blogs getting created where people wrote from poetry to political opinion. The creative outflow was no more restricted to writing letters to the Editor and be at their mercy of getting published.

Digital Media: Making content relevant

Another important change that came with the digital media is change is readers’ habit. A reader could easily follow the platforms that he liked without much effort. Initially people subscribed to RSS feeds or Social Bookmarking pages to keep a tab on the topics of their interest. Gradually it became email alerts, then liking social media pages.

No more scurrying through newspaper pages or shuffling through television channels. Reading a content of your choice was now at finger tips. This also gave rise to niche media websites. Websites like ESPN or Rotten Tomatoes or TechCrunch saw a huge interest from readers. They could now get unlimited content of a particular domain of their choice.

This also pushed the content publishers to make modification at their end and give the readers what they want. Analytics platform created a mechanism for publishers to track what the readers are reading and then make built their content strategies around that.

Today, most digital media platforms are equipped with artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning algorithms that can track readers’ interest and suggest content to them according to their interest in the ‘more article’ or ‘relevant article’ section.

Digital Media: Creating revolution

While making it easy for anyone to publish, digital media created an opportunity for the lesser known voices to come forward. Now, gradually these resulted into larger communities. Initially people managed communities through email groups, later through Google groups and then finally on Facebook and WhatsApp. As people of a certain interest group started coming together they created a stronger force.

In December 2010 when Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the arbitrary seizing of his vegetable stand by police over failure to obtain a permit, the news spread like wildfire through people who wrote about it. Bouazizi’s sacrificial act served as a catalyst for the so-called Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. But many still give the credit to the democratic nature of internet through which the revolution could be mobilised to spread to adjacent countries where finally it took shape of a bigger revolution which is popularly known as Arab Springs.

A revolution of similar nature was also witnessed in India when the citizens fought against the state Govt in Tamilnadu over the functioning of a nuclear power plant known as Kundakulam Nuclear Power plant. When Govt barred the entry of media personals to the protest sites, people used various digital media platforms from within the protest sites to broadcast their views and plights thereby making the entire world to stand up and listen to what is happening in one corner of the country.

Digital Media: Dividing the society

But despite the strong unifying nature of the platform it has often faced criticism from various sectors due to how digital media has been misused. In recent days the social media platforms have become a medium to broadcast fake news. While digital media allowed World Health Organization to reach out to the citizens of the world during the very recent COVID-19 pandemic, it also created a barrage of misinformation and disinformation on multiple platforms created by people with vested interest.

Digital media often has also been blamed for polarising thought processes or driving people’s opinion towards a wrong objective. In India, there were multiple cases of religious polarising that even lead to mob lynching and death of people based on what has been published on digital media. Cases of racial discrimination, stalking, cyber bullying has been on the rise.

While the democratic nature of the digital media acts as a strong power, the same elements makes it a very dangerous tool in the hands of miscreant. Government bodies across the world have made attempts to control this double edged sword. While the European Union tried bringing in GDPR to control data privacy, Indian Government in recent days have banned a number of websites and mobile apps. But, this is not a problem that can be solved through one single policy. This will require constant awareness building, monitoring and a lot of responsible behaviour from the citizens themselves.