Social Media or Social Menace?

August 15, 2013
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, downloadIn May 2013, Facebook was forced to change its policies after an outcry it received about some Facebook pages, posts and photos that glorified violence against women.

Autistic individuals have been stalked, threatened and abused online. When Caroline Criado-Perez recently started her campaign for a woman to be featured on British bank notes, little did she know that she would be the subject of intense threats of sexual violence.

There is also a growth in hate speech and intolerance online as can be found in comments on practically any topical issue. Fueled by egos and ingrained beliefs, the issues are quickly forgotten as the gladiators turn the online space into their battlefield – sputtering bile in the process. It is common for those with opposing views to be called uncomplimentary names such as idiot, stupid, ingrate, fool, ant, rat, etc.

Scammers and fraudsters are also having a field day impersonating and duping gullible individuals and organisations.

A good number of individuals and organisations have had malicious and sometimes unfounded information spread about them on social media platforms.

Is social media losing it? What can we individually and collectively do to stop this drift of social media into a social menace?

Adopt a Zero Tolerance Stance

We should adopt a zero tolerance stance against any form of abuse, threat or harassment online – whether it is on your personal pages or elsewhere. Don’t join them and don’t promote or encourage such. It may be you or your organization next. Stand up, speak against it and speak up for the victims/targets. There is no use feeling sorry after someone has been harmed.

A tweet in time might save a life. Should you find any malicious communication/threats on any site, quickly make a screen grab of the communication and save it. Send the screen grab to the platform owners; law enforcement databases (where available) and if you are bold enough then circulate online. Many people are embarrassed when they are suddenly named and shamed this way.

Watch Your Digital Footprints
I have seen employers turn down potential candidates because of comments attributed to these candidates on social media sites. In a particular case, a candidate was bashing his previous employers on his Facebook page. No employer wants to have a back stabbing employee whose sense of loyalty is questionable.

Also worrying is how some persons share details of projects they are involved in on such platforms. For bragging rights many throw confidentiality to the wind.  Many organisations would be horrified to find out that ‘what happens in their Las Vegas stays on Facebook”.

When next you are tempted to hit the share button, step back and ensure that the content you are about to share fulfills at least some of the 10 Hs of digital content (i.e. is the content helpful, healthy, hilarious, holistic, homely, human, humane, happy, habitual or honest?).

Major social media sites store all entries (posts, comments, and other actions) made on their servers for at least 10 years. Reasons for this include legal requirements and to improve their understanding of the behaviour of users on their platforms. A closer look at many of the “terms of use” documents on these sites (that we more often than not willingly consented to without reading the fine print) would reveal that in the event of a competent legal authority requesting for your records, your every comment or post may be given to these authorities.

Many people would be more careful with their behaviour online if they realized that a digital record is made. The best form of defense is not to put up malicious posts in the first place. We have heard that “Silence is golden”, I would add that on social networks, sometimes ‘less is more”.  ‘Brevity and tact’ are qualities that your entries on social media sites ought to have.

Build the Capacity of Law Enforcement

What the law does not permit anyone to do on traditional media channels should not be permitted on social media channels. Many governments are yet to enact/amend existing laws to include activities that occur online. Even where they have, many law enforcement agents are still trying to understand the online space.

Those responsible for making, upholding or enforcing laws need to be adequately equipped with the tools and techniques of effective social media management.  Thereafter they should be able to conduct credible forensic investigations about incidents that are related to activities on social media sites.

Push for Legislation and Enforcement
It is time to consider introducing legislation to ensure that one person’s freedom of speech on social media channels does not spell doom for others. To do this, it is imperative that owners of social media platforms be able to identify registered users on their platform(s).

The ability to post comments might be tied to prior registration on the platform. The registration might confirm the user’s mobile number before permitting the user to post comments. It is now easier to track the offender during investigations using the registration details of his/her mobile number.

Digital platforms should introduce/enforce the rules for what constitutes appropriate comments on their platform(s). Sadly enough, many sites are failing to monitor and delete offending comments or ban offenders.
Details of repeat and unrepentant offenders can be shared with the agency responsible for policing ethical behaviour online.  Such an agency should work with telecommunications firms and online platforms to create a database of offenders.

Depending on the nature and severity of the incidents, offenders can receive some re-orientation, given community service to undertake, fined or even jailed. These are simply suggestions not prescriptions. It is also a challenge to all stakeholders (users, digital platform owners, governments, civil society, etc) to work together sincerely to find a middle ground. Let’s not allow a spark become a wildfire.

Big brother is watching! Your tweet or retweet can be (mis)read as an endorsement. Your digital footprints are visible to those who have the motivation, will, responsibility and ability to act.

It is time to use social media responsibly.

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