The Footprints and Risks of Digital Media and Communication Technology
In recent years, digital media and networks have become an integral part of everyone's everyday lives and have influenced how people communicate. Unlike the early times in the development of computers and computer-based media, the presence of digital media is now unexceptional and prevalent. They have been used by a comprehensive range of individuals and institutions from all walks of life, from international health sciences, disaster response social work, and national and global higher education (Alnemary et al., 2015; Bennett, 2008; Ritzel, 2010; Wyatt & Silver, 2015). Although the development in the digital media and communication industry has brought huge benefits to society, challenges such as the spread of disinformation and misinformation, limited freedom of communication, privacy problem, the raise of cyber-crimes, and difficulties in education are inevitable.
The first challenge is the spread of misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda in online messages, advertising, business, political communication, and media publications. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the spread of misinformation has magnified on social media (Allcott et al., 2019), and it has proven to be as much of a threat to global public health as the coronavirus itself. In many Western societies, conspiracies about Covid-19 lead to less willingness to take tests, adhere to social distancing guidance, wear masks, or be vaccinated (Freeman et al., 2020; Romer and Jamieson, 2020). In earlier times, conspiracy theories usually spread among small-scale, local communities, while social media provides a solid foundation for its expansion at a much larger scale (Del Vicario et al., 2016; Tucker et al., 2017).
Secondly, digital media restrains freedom of expression for it being surveilled and controlled by government bureaucracies and politicians (Castells, 2009). Raising China as an example, the country's internet is completely owned by the government, and whoever wants to set up a website, government approval is required (Jason, 2010). In addition, internet users who want to register on a Chinese social app such as Douyin (TikTok in China - a platform for short videos that had about 600 million daily active users in 2021), WeChat (the biggest Chinese social media), they need to provide their personal information to sign a pledge not to access information that threatens state security; in some cases, users are required to register themselves to the police to surf (Jason 2010, p.102). Additionally, research by Wu and Wall (2019) explains, even when users utilize communication apps such as WeChat, they also need to be aware of the government's censorship and control over the messages for possessing political content.
In January 2021, Trump's social media accounts were held off across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitch, and TikTok, and many conservatives and liberals alike believed they were under censorship and worried about their speech freedom (Romano, 2021). Shahbaz and Funk (2021) conclude, in the digital age, global internet norms have changed dramatically through greater government intervention. In the United States, netizens' online activities are now more largely curbed and detected by tech companies, while they have limited resources in safeguards featured democratic governance, which includes transparency, public accountability, and judicial oversight. Moreover, Shahbaz and Funk (2021) argue that online freedom is decreasing all around the world since governments have been constraining user speech due to the increasing number of misinformation. They emphasize that the lack of regulation in the tech industry has made authoritarian governments harness their tight control of the internet to anticipate misleading information.
The third obstacle is the increased occurrence of cyber violence. Al-Alosi (2017) describes cyber-violence refers to a continuing abuse from one person against a former or present intimate partner, and it contains a series of controlling and coercive behaviors, such as tracking of location, threatening phone calls or smartphones harassment on social media and posting of images of partners without permission. E-device, such as computers and smartphones provide abusers to overcome the spatial and physical distances that would have otherwise stopped them from connecting with their victims. Moreover, digital abuse such as cyberbullying, cyber-stalking, and non-consensual sexting is increasingly experienced by young females, by people they have already known, or by strangers, and some victims are suffering from severe harassment (Al-Alosi, 2017).
Privacy is the fourth issue that comes along with the new digital era. As the potential for manipulating and editing data among technological companies or businesses increases, the risk of privacy also grows (Adams and Sasse, 2001). The users in the Arab world use social media groups, such as Facebook to exchange sensitive health information, which could have serious indications regarding the privacy of the information shared with other members in the group chats; thus, these issues should not be ignored (Househ et al., 2014; Asiri et al., 2017).
The fifth issue of digital media and communication technology is its impact on the younger generation. Kessler (2011) showed that many students were not able to study without a technological device, and they get stressed that they were unable to focus on their studies for over 10 minutes without checking out their social media through laptops or smartphones. This seems to be an emotional need for the students to check their devices, otherwise, anxiety would be generated (Rosen et al., 2013). The use of social media affects people's mental health, and people who spent more time on social media were three times as likely to feel social isolation than those who did not stay on social media as often (Rosenquist, et al. 2011; Brian et al., 2017). Following up on this, McInnerney and Roberts (2004) point out that isolation can influence a student’s attitude to online learning; they believe online interaction lacks intimacy. Unlike face-to-face communication which can give users instant feedback, technology-mediated education leads to isolation instead of warmth and support. Furthermore, the use of technology and virtual classes degrades education in various environments as it distorts the relationship between teachers and students, and it deepens the inequalities among students from different financial backgrounds who can or can not have the access to the internet (Fried, 2008; Wentworth & Middleton, 2014).
Lastly, as the internet was initially designed for the U.S. and used for government and military purposes, it has made English the most widely used web language. Therefore, it could potentially create inequalities in access to the world wide web for non-English speaking users. As Jason (2020, p. 62) indicates, non-phonetic languages (such as Mandarin and Japanese) have to be transmitted as images rather than text.
In the digital age, communication technologies provide great opportunities for different areas of industry. However, it has also led the whole world to challenges, such as the expansion of misinformation and disinformation, less freedom of communication, unavoidable invasion of privacy, an increase of cyber-crimes, and negative effects on students' competencies. All these remain a concern that needs to be investigated and discussed as technological advancement continues.
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