The Power of Language on Social Media
To a certain extent, the commercialization of digital media promises a space of expression and the technologization of the language of freedom.
The importance of language in social life is a common topic of discussion. However, an awareness of language shifts requires a bit of caution, as demonstrated in the last decade, when as a social act, language developed alongside the growth of social media in everyday communication, which became easier and cheaper.
Linguistic shifts do not only occur at the macro level, as in the interplay between different languages, which still shows the dominance of the power of English and Mandarin in the arena of international communication and trade discourse. But also at the micro level, within each nation-state that adapts to the “technologization” of language on social media.
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The shifts in social media practices have revolutionized the way people relate and speak. As observed by Philip Seargeant and Caroline Tagg in The Language of Social Media: Identity and Community on the Internet (2014), various social media platforms are not only an alternative way to engage in the form of interactive communication that was available before its emergence, they also provide very different dynamics and communicative structures.
Just as the telegraph and telephone in previous eras introduced new ways of communicating – and changed communicative practices and patterns of social relations – social media has had a profound effect on linguistic and communicative practices as well as groupings, social networks and power relations.
The same thing happens with the practice of language on social media in Indonesia. Various "new languages" (acronyms, abbreviations, emoticons, memes) and technical discourses (programming engines, social media algorithms) have appeared, so the Great Dictionary of the Indonesian Language may not be able to follow the dynamics and creativity of language in the world of social media. Improved Spelling Guidelines (EYD) may have to be accompanied by Free and Fast Spelling (EYBC). Language that is well structured is ridiculed, distorted and begins to be replaced with language that is completely free. Guidelines for the formation of terms in the era of social media rely on the power of netizens, internet users.
Stakeholders can no longer belittle netizens. They are discourse-forming and meaning-defining forces in cyberspace. No wonder President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo also takes the power of netizens into account, embracing Youtubers, gamers, celebrities and influencers and even inviting them to lunch at the State Palace.
To a certain extent, the commercialization of digital media promises a space of expression and the technologization of the language of freedom. On the one hand, along with the Covid-19 pandemic, various acronyms, terms and bits of jargon related to the pandemic were produced. The production of language related to health policies in the reform era still shows the tradition of the New Order-style bureaucratic language, with language bureaucratization as shown with the changing of acronyms for the same policy, namely changing the lockdowns PSBB to PPKM.
The bureaucratic health language becomes a new language regime for defining the meaning of health and illness and determining restrictions on public spaces, which more or less affect the life and death of citizens who have limited access to employment and hospitals.
Most of language is produced by the power of health and sometimes combined with political power and capital power, which take advantage of the pandemic moment to increase the image of power or gain profit. The bureaucratic health language becomes a new language regime for defining the meaning of health and illness and determining restrictions on public spaces, which more or less affect the life and death of citizens who have limited access to employment and hospitals. The combination of the interests of capital and political power in language production should make us critically note that the "virus of hoaxes" that is mushrooming through social media may not always come from the public but may be deliberately constructed by pro-capital or pro-state forces.
On the other hand, the tumult of language in cyberspace is also marked by the shift in the language of the political elite, which is increasingly fluid. This is marked by the habit of sarcasm and criticism between political elites through social media. This not only reflects the tumultuous discourse of democratization that is staged on social media but also the symbolic irony of elite behavior, which is much different from that of face-to-face forums, which reflect bureaucratization and ceremonialization of political small talk.
The flow of information, which is getting faster because it is spread virally through social media, also encourages the military and police elite to take advantage of the potential of social media not only for institutional purposes but also for personal image construction. This includes taking advantage of the popularity of TikTok when doing their jobs to attract colleagues or influence the public's impression.
Not just for the political elite, social media also brings blessings for marginalized groups, who can speak up by taking advantage of the room for participation provided by various platforms. When social media becomes everyone's media, its democratic potential emerges, and pressure groups such as anticorruption social movements and environmental care groups can build community glue to mobilize a language of resistance that is not tarnished by the interests of power and capital.
Unfortunately, the positive potential of the development of social media platforms is accompanied by negatives. For some people, this is worrying. This is marked by the strengthening of political irrationality. When argumentative power is paralyzed and freedom of thought is threatened, what reigns is anarchy, the coercion of the masses and the fragmentation of authority.
Tim Clydesdale (2009), who studied youth, argues that access to virtually unlimited information makes teens and college-age people distrustful of real authority. Any opinion or claim posted online is likely to be met with counterclaims and differing opinions. Clydesdale says, “Authority can be found for every position,” leaving young people doubting that there is a strong, swift truth or authority.
The new freedom of expression is interpreted as freedom of language without being fenced off by ethics.
The threat of commodification of social media is also increasingly real for the democratization of the public sphere because a tyranny of viral language can hinder independent thinking. People are not completely ready to have different opinions; what often happens is conflict. The new freedom of expression is interpreted as freedom of language without being fenced off by ethics. No wonder the possibility of the diversity of viewpoints offered by netizens through social media does not always grow in a positive direction for the enrichment of democratic discourse.
The democratization of information can quickly degenerate into intellectually destructive radical egalitarianism.
The problem is how the participatory and egalitarian potential of social media to empower does not instead deceive the public. Communications professor Rayford Steele in Traditional and New Media (2009) warns, “The democratization of information can quickly degenerate into intellectually destructive radical egalitarianism.” Isn’t is true that everyone is able to present an opinion and make claims, but not everyone has the same qualifications, and not every opinion has the same basis?
IDI SUBANDY IBRAHIM, Culture, Media and Communications Researcher
(This article was translated by Kurniawan Siswoko)