Saturday, May 1, 2021.
Technology and social media are amazing tools. They can make it possible individuals who have not seen each other for years even decades to come together. WhatsApp, Telegram and others can bring together individuals who went their separate ways many, many years ago. Primary school and secondary school mates can get together on a platform. Memories come back. It can be refreshing.
It may be quite enjoyable until reality dawns on the group. People are not the same again. People who years ago were irresponsible may have become very responsible individuals taking big decisions that may affect the whole country, or even the world. Others who were not religious may have become religious leaders leading big congregations and groups. Many people may not have the same philosophies they had years ago. Some nicknames have been dropped. Some have changed. There are those who remain ‘immature’. It is difficult to tell from the beginning but interactions on the platform bring all these out.
The ‘group clown or idiot’ that everyone could insult years ago may have metamorphosed into a responsible and focused person. Married with children as well as adults who look up to him/her, this person will no longer tolerate insults (including vulgar/insulting nicknames) that he/she accepted years ago. The members of the group are now different individuals with different interests and objectives. Some may have their own agenda, political or otherwise.
The group platform usually starts out well. Soon the picture becomes clear. Political, religious, intellectual differences become clear. Some people may try to show they are superior to others (financially, educational levels etc). Others may have an inferiority complex, and ‘step back’ when issues are being discussed.
The primary aim of the group might be to support a common cause, for example an alma mater but the platform may become boring if only the primary aim of the group is allowed to be put there. An opportunity may be given to allow other issues to be put on the platform. Depending on what the group allows on the platform or how ‘good’ the administrator(s) of the platform is/are in handling confrontations and divergent views, the group then runs into trouble. People may start leaving the group. Then a group with a good objective runs the risk of collapsing.
I believe groups must not restrict themselves to only their specific objectives (I have written a piece on this – ‘Social media: should professional platforms restrict themselves to only their fields?’). There is a caveat here. To allow different issues to be discussed, the members must be ready for objective discussions, not biased or one-sided discussions otherwise there is a risk of people who cannot tolerate such discussions leaving the group.
What have other groups done to maintain order? The best example I can give is the platform for the parents and teachers of my son’s school. At a Parent Teacher Association meeting, in response to concerns raised by a parent (who could not cope with the many messages not related to the school and sometimes missed important information from the school), two platforms were created – ‘Official’ and ‘Social’. For the ‘Official’ platform, only the school can post messages. For the ‘Social’ platform (which is a ‘voluntary’ one), other issues can be discussed.
It is difficult to put together people from different backgrounds (ethnic, religious, political etc) but it is possible, with commitment, to make arrangements to keep all of them involved in the main aim of the group. When structures are not put in place, the platform will become a ‘jungle’ (yes, some people would want this) and ‘decent’ people will be forced to leave.
As George Bernard Shaw put it: “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”