Tuesday 23 October 2012

If we don't reclaim social media from trolls...

The impact of social media on life in the 21st century has been incredible. Sites like Facebook and Twitter have connected long lost friends and families, facilitated revolutions and created job opportunities for many in these trying economic times. Social media has enabled many conversations that would be difficult to have on other channels and powered many movements that have pushed us forward as a people. But despite these, the rise of social media has also seen the rise of trolling - a cancerous ill that still exists amongst sections of our community.

The notion of how far we have developed and moved away from the days of mindless thuggery and prejudice is often put forward but a look at Twitter feeds and Facebook pages often reveals that as a human race, we have not moved anywhere as far away from these things as we like to think.

Rarely does a week go by without a public figure deactivating a social media account. In most cases, the closure is a result of unprovoked, vile and hateful abuse directed at them and their families. Racist abuse, threats to children (born and unborn) and explicit death threats are only few of the many ways these people suffer; all because they are making attempts to connect with their adoring fans.

The element of freedom of speech plays an important part in social media. It facilitates an environment conducive to debate and discussion in an open and honest way that is often the most productive and progressive. But in a rather interesting twist, it is this same freedom of speech that empowers the vile minority to target other members of the social media community with abuse and hate.

While we can argue about the technicalities of freedom of speech, it important that we do not overlook the right to insult and be insulted. In our bid to rid social media of the rotten apples, we should not cushion ourselves so much that we get rid of the frictions that often open our eyes to uncomfortable truths that might otherwise be difficult to come about. We must bear in mind that any move to 'protect ourselves from insults' will most likely involve a level of legislation, which is not always the most straightforward route.

Many arguments have been made for and against censorship and higher levels of control but I believe more legislation to control social media activity, although intended to cure the cancer of vile abuse, will end up destroying the heart and soul of what makes social media the channel we all love and everyone wants to be involved in.

I believe the long term solution to the problem is to educate people, not about how to use social media but in taste and propriety. To educate them about what is profitable and to refrain from encouraging this vile behaviour in a way that has seen many perpetrators given celebrity status. I believe the abuse we see from these trolls comes from the absence of an understanding and appreciation of what is acceptable and commendable and we need to speak up against it.

The solution goes beyond social media as it reaches into everyday life with matters of manners and courtesy. If we can create a real world community that doesn't tolerate or glorify hate and abuse, we will be one step closer to ridding social media of trolls and brutes. It's not going to be the easiest thing to do but if we can put this at the top of our list of priorities, it will go a long way to inform our use of social media.

As much as we have to accept that we will never entirely rid society of the bead eggs among us, we should always endeavour to work together as a community to show what the majority stands for. I have no doubt that most people who use social media are well intentioned and upstanding members of society but until we drown out the evil of the trolls, we will have to contend with our works being qualified by theirs.

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