The 1990s saw the proliferation of computers and the internet. Over the course of a couple of decades, the seminal development changed how people work, network and communicate. According to 2016 Gallup research of 15,000 adults in America, 43% said they spend at least some time working from home. And the percentage of those who work from home the whole week continues to climb. Telecommuting has removed geographical boundaries. The biggest positive impact of the phenomenon, in my opinion, has been on the differently-abled. Thanks to the internet, they have access to a wider pool of jobs that go beyond their district or city.
Similarly, the internet has allowed safe spaces for the marginalized by way of chat rooms and online forums. The speed with which information can be relayed to far-flung areas has enabled community-driven relief efforts during times of calamity. Information technology has had a positive impact on society in a lot of areas. However, there is a dark side to it as well.
Consider the problem of fake news, for instance. Misinformation on the internet has severely impacted political campaigns and electoral results in several countries in recent years, including the U.S. Then there is the problem of infringement of privacy, the recent Facebook scandal being the biggest example.
Technology And Its Role In Social Responsibility
There are always two sides to a coin, and that is the case with information technology, too. While it allows for the faster spread of information, safe spaces and access to information for all, it also allows the spread of misinformation that can instigate riots, online bullying and easier access to child pornography. While technology alone can’t mitigate the evils, there are initiatives that it can undertake to continually improve society.
More Proactive In Educating People
India has seen a rise in mob violence in recent months, which is a direct result of the spread of misinformation on Facebook-owned WhatsApp. Even news channels have fallen prey to false stories circulated via social media. Education can play a key role in tackling the menace of fake news. WhatsApp has started a user education drive in India at the grassroots level. It plans to organize workshops in several Indian cities, educating community leaders on how to discern between news and opinion.
The less educated, and people over the age of 55 who are fairly new to the world of social media, are particularly more susceptible to misinformation. Big companies have the resources to invest in user education at the ground level. However, even if you are a small social media company, you can be proactive in educating people without spending too many resources. For instance, you could have an onboarding process with videos and tutorials on how to spot fake news. Gamification of the same can also be used to improve engagement and retention.
Women in developing countries are 50% less likely to have access to the internet compared to men. Furthermore, even when they do have access, they are 30%-50% less likely to use it for participation in public life or to find new sources of income. Prevalent harassment and bullying online are two key factors that prevent women from participating on the internet as much as men. Lack of skills is another.
While local level programs, such as training workshops, are important to make information technology more inclusive, apps that are simpler in design can also pave the way. For instance, smartphones can come with built-in onboarding apps geared toward the less technologically educated. They can give an entire walkthrough of important features in a simple-to-understand format and in a user-preferred language. These onboarding apps can be automatically triggered when the user keys in their age and gender after a phone is first powered on.
Standalone apps and web apps can take similar cues, adjusting their UI according to user information. Making critical information available offline is another way to make the web more inclusive. It will then increase the reach of the internet to places that do not have constant access to it. Ride-booking apps such as Uber are already doing it. They trigger an SMS notification when there is limited or no internet connectivity.
Encouraging More Social Action
Thanks to modern technology, data can be collated from several different sources to gather insights and inform action. It can be done to improve marketing strategies of organizations and also to bring about social change. For the latter, Janaagraha, an Indian Trust, is a good example. Their “I Paid a Bribe” program is an online platform that seeks to reduce corruption in public offices. They crowdsource bribe reports and data related to corruption to advocate workflow changes in departments. Their model has been replicated in 30 other countries.
Aggregation of data and subsequent analysis can be used to positively impact society in cases of natural calamity, climate change and even making governments more accountable. There are also apps such as Charity Water and Indiegogo that encourage social action by making it easier for people to donate.
Technology, when used effectively, has the potential to tackle some of the most pressing issues around the world. The need of the hour is for enterprises to be more conscious of what they are creating and, more importantly, how they are executing it.