There is this blogger I know who says he knows how long each visitor spends on his blog. There are some, says this SEO-savvy cynic, who spend less than 60 seconds on his post. These guests spend the majority of those seconds leaving a generic comment in the hope that the compliment will be returned with a comment on their own latest post. What a lot of frantic to-ing and fro-ing for nothing. Surely running around from blog to blog leaving such comments is a waste of their time. Oh, and we mustn't forget comments that try and waste our time- from our good friend, Anonymous. This aggressive advertiser says "what a nice post" and having dispensed with the niceties goes on to add, "If you want to lose weight / know how to blog better / increase your libido, visit mine." I'm not sure about Wordpress but Blogspot sends comments from Anonymous to the spam folder for which I'm grateful.
I feel most ordinary bloggers do enjoy genuine interaction with people who they would never otherwise have known. For such people, as long as the virtual world doesn't completely take over their lives, blogging is very rewarding.
Which brings me to what I think one of the main benefits of social media is. It plays a very important role in keeping our news media on their toes.
News media today often doctor news depending on the owner's (or their sponsors') affiliations. Here's an example. In some countries checks and balances for such practices exist only on paper, The doctoring is blatant. Even reputed international news media often use covert tactics to influence public opinion in ingenious ways. How often have we seen them try and prevent someone they believe is against everything they stand for (their values, their tribe, their sponsors) talking perfect sense. That's not how they wish to portray that person to the world so the simple solution, if it is a TV channel, for example, is to voice over what that person is saying. The person is seen to speak but it is the commentator's voice that the listener hears giving us the angle the news channel wishes to portray. So many political leaders from the Middle East, for example, have recently had this unfortunate tactic used on them by TV channels of international repute.
How often have we seen a piece of news that they want forgotten played only once, and something they want us to remember, repeated every hour, on the hour and very often in between? How often did we see Saddam Hussein loading and firing a gun, albeit in the air, as compared to his saying that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction?
Ordinary people telling us what's happening in their nook of the world, even if their views might be completely prejudiced, hold our attention and interest. If they are able to convey things reasonably well, their insider knowledge lends them a certain authenticity. This is what makes newspapers and TV hesitate to doctor news too quickly or too completely to align it with their own beliefs. What's to prevent them from bribing or threatening such individuals to toe their line? The sheer numbers. How many of those thousands of individuals can they bribe?
In India we've seen newsmakers try and instil fear by marching young things who dare exercise their freedom of speech, to jail. Then there are those cartoon blogs poking fun at people in politics - the especially creative, popular and succinct ones managed in India were removed from cyber world. Such heavy handed tactics have been partially successful. Some bloggers have backed off completely and others have toned down their criticism. Luckily, many bloggers, facebookers and tweeters continue speaking out. With so many speaking out it is difficult for politicians or the platforms they use, like the news media, to clamp down on the public voice. [Obviously, newspapers and TV channels who claim they don't take sides have nothing to worry about.]
This doctoring of news won't stop. In India our checks and balances for anything lacks determined effort. Instead a determined effort to find ways to subvert rules, regulations, laws or even human decency never lets up. When a hundred bloggers with their own beliefs and affiliations don't hesitate to tell us their own points of view, we come to know, more or less, where the truth lies. In the above example of news doctoring it was a blogger who pointed out that the photo was doctored.
Of course we draw our own conclusions depending on our own beliefs. Who says we live in a perfect world? What I do say is, with so many of us blogging the greatest disadvantage is that we'll have to look through a mind boggling mountain of dross before we find the occasional gold. On the whole though, with so many of us blogging and opining - whether daily, weekly or monthly, the greatest advantage has to be that our news media will feel the need to be (relatively:) accountable.
Image from wiki - "Letthejourneysbegin"
Sadly, the link I'd put up "http://2013/04/16/i-hate-to-make-an-accusation-here-but/" to give an example of news doctoring doesn't work anymore. Either, it has been removed by the author because the accusation was made and the mud stuck - job done, OR, it was removed by Google for being false which sounds unlikely.