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Capitalising on the surge in public engagement

Jul 26,2018 - Last updated at Jul 26,2018

Since the advent and flourishing of social media in particular, there has been a noticeable increase in people's engagement in our society with public issues in general, and with governmental performance in particular.

"Engagement" is key here.

This has not always been the case. In fact, not a long time ago, many of us who were interested in or writing about issues of public concern used to complain of apathy on part of the people regarding both public issues and what is said about them.

I distinctly remember a guest in a talk show I moderated for Jordan Television, Channel II, in the late 1990s stating: "They say, curiosity killed the cat! I say, with respect to people's engagement in public issues, who killed curiosity?"

Privatisation and spread of the press and media, and the surge of social media in particular, have given a great push to public debates on issues of concern to people in our society, by providing people with venues for airing their opinions and venting their concerns with hardly any obstacles.

Overall, of course, this is positive. Engagement, no matter what form it takes, is better than aloofness or apathy.

In advanced democratic societies, vibrant and structured public debates inform public policies and decisions, to the benefit of all in those societies.

In our society, several key institutions and decision makers have started benefitting from public debates on issues, as well as feedback on decisions.

This is a development we should be grateful for.

When people express their opinions freely, negatively or positively, those involved with public issues can be better informed about which course to take regarding so many matters, as people's opinions and positions count.

Two challenges, among others however, make what gets said or expressed fall short of what is expected.

The first is the haste in the expression of "opinion," largely due to the ease with which people can write anything at any time, which makes what gets said often instinctive, impulsive and presumptive.

A level of spontaneity is at times appreciated, of course. Nevertheless, when taking decisions on serious matters, those involved are looking for more than sheer gut reactions; they are after carefully, precisely, and well thought-out opinions.

The second is the negativity of much of what gets expressed. There is a difference, to be sure, between being critical and being cynical and dismissive.

A lot of what gets said or written on social media in our part of the world is of the latter nature, which is not very helpful, as it contributes more to confusion than clarity on matters.

While cynicism and dismissiveness could be taken as a reliable indicator of what the public mood is, overall they are not as constructive as one would want when wanting to take informed decisions.

As social media, in the opinion of many, have become more of a problem and a challenge to our society than a useful, constructive tool, there is a need for a serious debate by all concerned on how to best make use of what is essentially and potentially a very good and useful tool.

Perhaps a milestone conference on the matter, in which social media users, bloggers, activists, journalists, media personalities, educators, legislators and government officials take part, is in order, to zero in on a matter of utmost importance to us all.

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Comments

I agree. It’s wrong to have beneficial satisfaction appeasements when there’s cryptids complaining about the pains of their jealousy.

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