A Convenient Front to Hide

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on the morning of Saturday March 8, has resulted in some very exciting exchanges in the social media. Suddenly everyone who owns a Facebook or Twitter account or uses instant messaging services such as WeChat and WhatsApp, becomes an expert in airline crash investigation. They gave varying theories, some absurd and some hilarious, how the Boeing 777-200ER with 239 people on board went missing barely an hour after taking off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

The fact that these very ordinary ‘commentators’ have found sudden fame, real or otherwise, speaks plenty about social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, and its influence on people. Little wonder why Facebook is being considered the fifth most successful start-up company of all time. In January 2014 it is valued at USD 134 billion with almost 1.23 billion active users on its website every month. Facebook founder, Mark Zukerberg, has acquired fame and wealth, all in a matter of years, since the online networking service made its debut on February 4, 2004.

The evils of social media have been debated many times over. And unless one is privy to its benefits and its downside, there is no reason for any lengthy discourse. In a recent survey it was found that people use the site for at least 30 minutes a day and most are apt at reading the contents rather than posting them.

I shall leave the non-IT savvy out (especially those of my generation), as many of us do not even know the difference between tweeting and texting. The advent of Android devices and smartphones has given rise to a new set of problems. We struggle on the virtual keypad and are at odds with touch-screen technology, the mainstay of the gizmos. One very disinterested user has solemnly declared never to touch a smartphone and has sworn allegiance to his trusty keypad-driven mobile phone instead. But this antiquated device of yesteryears is already a dinosaur by IT standards.

However, not all of us are as ignorant as I have painted them to be. There are those who are as savvy and as receptive as any youthful techno geeks. Although I am nothing compared to my 9-year-old granddaughter who gave me a crash course on how to upload pictures on to my WhatsApp page, I can safely say that I am much better than my good friend who cannot comprehend why smartphones are smart.

Here are some negative traits of social media aficionados. After being bombarded by requests for friendship upon my opening a Facebook account many moons ago, I decided to give it a try. Soon I received a long list of requests from friends, peers and former students. Being discerning enough, I picked the safe ones leaving the rest in a virtual limbo, so to speak. And now after being in the FB (Facebook) loop for a while I am getting a little wary of some. Their true colours are beginning to show each passing day.

A very extrovert former army mate is now a born-again Muslim. Not a day passes without him preaching us the evils of apostasy. His liberal quotations of verses from the Quran bespeak of doomsday and how we will meet our Maker on Judgment Day. He is definitely not the person I used to know then.

My friend’s wife is a totally different woman when on FB. She frequently talks of the scenic KL skyline when her apartment in Gombak is being obliterated by a tall tower. She once described her joyous sojourn on a Port Dickson beach when she was in Ipoh on that fateful day. When I commented that there were discrepancies in her stories, she snapped back saying it was none of my business. What surprised me most was the number of ‘Likes’ she registered on her wall, including one from my kid brother.

A former student talks about nothing but his numerous overseas trips in his postings. However, his accompanying photographs gave him away. He looks much younger than what he is suppose to be. Obviously, social media brings the best and the worse out of individuals like those I have the misfortune of knowing.

Sharing thoughts and views come with a responsibility. You should be able to support your views with facts and not scribble some profanities when confronted with the truth. Never use social media as a convenient front to hide your true identity.

What irritates me most are those who prefer some foreign-sounding names to their own. But this phenomenon is as old as time itself. Even during my pen pal days we would use anglicized names to promote ourselves.

Having said so, we are no better than the Facebook freaks of today. I rest my case.

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