Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Do We Need Social Media "ASMBOs"?

A strange question for me to choose upon my return from a blogging hiatus, to be sure. However it's highly topical at the moment as I'm sure you'll agree.

Twice this week in the news, stories have broken that directly relate to the antisocial online behaviour of certain individuals that have been directly linked to poignant and painful news stories; both have been given court sentences. Matthew Woods - an unemployed teenager from Chorley, was jailed and given a custodial sentence of 12 weeks following his posting of jokes that poked fun at the desperately sad and highly emotive case of the abducted schoolgirl April Jones. In a totally unrelated case, that stretches back to events in March, Azhar Ahmed was fined and ordered to participate in 240 hours of community service after expressing a desire to see soldiers die and burn in Hell, just hours after 6 British soldiers lost their lives in Afghanistan.

What links these cases of course is the Facebook element. Both used the social media platform to express themselves and in both cases, the authorities saw fit to throw the book at them.

You get the impression that many of those in authority don't fully grasp how social media works and are terrified by the power it gives to those who previously did not have a voice. They understand it enough to use it tactically as a way of gathering information, yet when social media manifests its power in a more sinister fashion (riots, trolling and tasteless comments such as those recorded in the stories above), politicians, police and judges alike seem at a loss to navigate the minefield of civil liberties and responsibilities.

Knowing what is acceptable online behaviour is one thing... getting  a correct and proportionate response when somebody deviates from that path is quite another. In what is still the most prominent social media court case to date - the Paul Chambers Twitter Joke Trial, a judiciary sledgehammer was used to crack a peanut. Chambers in a moment of blind frustration had quipped that he was going to blow up Nottingham's Robin Hood Airport if they didn't sort things out.  After an off duty employee of the airport intercepted the tweet and called it in, the police got involved and things got out of hand.

Of course there is a clear difference between the Twitter Joke Trial and the cases of the young men above, I think we can all be prone to a knee-jerk utterance of ridiculous hyperbole when confronted with a frustrating or trying situation.... but when it comes to events that involve the real-life suffering of others... there's a line that thankfully most of us know not to cross.

Eternal Wisdom

Even then that still leaves us with the trolls. Poignantly, I myself came under attack by a troll on Twitter the other day.  After initially walking away from the situation and "shaking the dust off my feet", I was disturbed to see that the person concerned held so much hatred after an exchange on what was actually a trivial issue (they thought they'd spotted something really clever that undermined the entire Christian faith and yet there were obvious common sense explanations some of which were included in the Biblical narrative). Within minutes of the initial exchange, said person had tracked back to this blog... and drawn the conclusion that I was a ""smugly condescending bigot" "#liar4Jesus" who should try & "fool children of my own mental age". Just a little bit harsh then. As far as I'm concerned, it was their tone and choice of prejudicial language that made them the belligerent party and ironically, the very bigot they were claiming to be exposing. All they needed to do to complete the full set was break Godwin's Law.

Still it brought me back here and got me writing again... for which i am eternally thankful to them.

I'll admit I don't have much time for people who have an aggressive agenda. I don't mind atheists or humanists promoting their own ideologies... but I do object to those who the basis of their argument is the pure denigration of those who think and believe differently. That is a measure I hold myself and all others against. Militancy is a nasty spectre wherever it raises its ugly head. I also don't like others presuming to tell me what I believe on my behalf. I have a brain, I have a heart, I have a soul... I am capable of utilising them all... just because I draw a different conclusion to my detractors... it doesn't give them the right prejudicially label me or file me in a box with disdain.

That's just my experience... and it's just the tip of the iceberg. Across the world, young people are being targeted with callous hateful exchanges which sometimes have tragic and even fatal consequences.... and it seems we are powerless to do anything as the tide advances inexorably towards us, unless we use the full weight of the law.

Perhaps it is time social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook find ways (in addition to their more potent measures)to "soft police" their networks.

A ban hammer and day in court are pretty much nuclear options  and in the case of contextual or subjective exchanges are not always going to be the most sensible way of dealing with unsavoury characters.

So what can be done?

I was thinking about this while passing the time playing "Transformers: Fall of Cybertron" on my XBox 360 when it hit me... gamer rep cards.

XBox Live incorporates a feature on your profile that records when people report you or avoid you and gives reasons why... here's an example I found from a picture on a Google Search:

A Typical XBox 360 Gamercard Showing Rep
As you can see it gives your profile a basic 5 star rating... but it also gives you a breakdown of communication and behaviour that people have taken a dislike to. Perhaps Twitter and Facebook could benefit from installing a similar feature. Of course it would have to be given proper consideration. Some trolls are organised and could launch concerted campaigns to damage the reputation of perfectly reasonable people.

So there are no easy answers but I think this might be a starting point... a place where we can begin to consider how we can police ourselves and warn others of troublesome profiles before Big Brother comes and does it all for us in a horrible, convoluted and heinous manner.

  • What experiences have you had of being trolled?
  • What do you think can be done to combat malicious online behaviour?

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