Do You Take Responsibility For Your Online Behaviour?

In the main, social media is held in high esteem in my world and there are many branches to it.  It has been a constant learning curve over many years and I continue to expand certain networks, use different platforms for different purposes and generally enjoy my time on there with my imaginary online friends.

Looking at the bigger picture, social media is relatively new.  Depending on how long you have been online, your choice of platform determines how you update your social network.  Social media – usually Facebook - is used extensively by non-bloggers to connect to their friends and family.  Twitter has been seen very much a place to have mini conversations and connect with people outside of the immediate circle of real life friends and Google Plus has been adopted by many a geek because of the intricacy of the networking facilities in line with the incorporation of visual tools and inclusion in Google’s own search engine.  Social media is also seen as a way to promote articles that have been written and many organisations are aware that they need an online presence to promote their flairs and wares.

Social media and blogging inevitably cross paths.  Bloggers use many different social media platforms and tools to push their new posts out to their wider network and engage in discussion about what they have written.  Social media channels are being seen as the place to engage in campaigns and charity fund raisers.  Sharing of updates is similar to the effect of ripples in a pond. 

But we occasionally lose control of that.  And a shitstorm happens.  And that’s when social media becomes a sad place to be.

Who teaches us how to behave online?  The ethos of “if you wouldn’t say it to their face then don’t say it at all” doesn’t quite work when it is easy to hide behind a screen with one or more usernames.  Online abuse and trolling has been going on since the dawn of (internet) time and we are constantly repeating the message to be accountable for what we put out there.  But the abuse and the trolling doesn’t stop.  And, in my mind, it never will, but you can take responsibility for yourself and for your close network.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you will have heard about the #banknotes campaign (I wrote about it here), brought to many people’s attention initially by Eva Keogan and Caroline Criado-Perez at Cybher 13 and then through The Women’s Room.  Online presence and sharing of support was generated in a positive way.  It was seen to be an important enough necessity to reverse a decision made by a higher echelon and joyous appreciation was heard across the interwebs. 

That was until it was considered to be a move to Encourage Feminism and Turn Us All Into Lesbians.  The online attacks started, mainly directed at Caroline Criado-Perez who headed the #banknotes campaign but it then extended anyone who dared to support Caroline, including well known activists, journalists and normal women speaking out for something they believed needed to happen.

Also, there was the story of a blogger within my network who experienced an altercation in her local supermarket, blogged about it and because of the theme of the incident (the sexualisation of children), it was picked up on and it went viral.  There are now forum discussions dedicated to dissecting the information appearing on news sites and creating their own hate campaign around it, digging around the internet, looking for ‘leads’ to use to discredit this person further.  How do I know?  Because I experienced a hugely inflated number of hits on a Soundtrack to my Life post that this person had submitted a few months ago.  There is always a trail left on the internet.  You always know (more or less) how people have found your blog.

We are hearing more and more reports about young people feeling the need to take their own lives after being subjected to bullying and online abuse through other social media networks aimed at their generation (Ask.FM, Bebo, to name but a few).  Through research for work I have found a number of reports about networkers who actively seek to create hate campaigns and have a merry band of followers.  Their response when interviewed is that the punishment doesn't fit the crime and they can always create a new identity to carry on their mission.  The pack mentality displayed by online social media users (and currently some users on the Twitter platform are the main culprits) is shocking and heartbreaking. 

Who should be policing the social media platforms?  Should it be us, the users?  Or should it be monitored by the owners/creators of the platforms?  Yes, we have to be liable for the order in which we punch letters into the keyboard so that they are displayed on the screen but we live in a world where our right to free speech sometimes seems to be more important than the feelings of another human being.

I have written an article on Geekalicious about the value and the responsibility behind a ‘retweet’ on Twitter (the sharing of someone else’s update).  It’s worth a read if you’re not familiar with the terminology or how Twitter works.  Over the past few weeks people have rewteeted blunt and speculative tweets from outspoken people and ended up embroiled in conversations that have spiraled out of control.  Others have attempted to voice an opinion but certain parts of those opinions have been taken out of context and used to abuse or troll.

Whatever your status in this world, if you have access to a computer and an internet connection, you are of privileged standing.  Freedom of speech gives you the opportunity to voice your opinion and take part in discussion but the second you resort to insults you lose your credibility.

One of my own personal ethos’s is to view your actions, learn from them and make changes for the better.  I apply this to both my personal and professional life.  Earlier this week I read an article from Sian To, founder of Cybher, on the Cison blog.  The headline and article was purposefully worded to taunt and to encourage discussion to a certain extent, however a small group of people saw it as a personal attack.  During a discussion about this article on Twitter I was also subjected to abuse because I chose to agree with the majority of the article.

Back in 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King’s assassination, there was an experiment led by Jane Elliott – a teacher who created the brown eyes/blue eyes experiment - to help explain racism and segregation to her class of 8-year olds.  When we give groups of people a ‘name’ we inadvertently segregate them.  They spend more time together, they lean on each other, support each other and believe in each other.  When one person steps away from that group they become the ‘odd one out’ and effectively cause a rip-tide effect.

To make a change you have to be prepared to be that odd one out.  You may make mistakes on the way but if you go back to re-evaluating, learning and changing then you continue to progress.  

Online activity is not the same as it was when I first discovered the internet way back when (too many years to count, but probably around 2001) but there has always been outspoken service users.  Some know how to conduct themselves online, some know how to start valuable discussions which may make people learn or widen their view and some hide behind their screen name and continue to make waves in negative ways. 

One of the main reasons I chose to blog and conduct my online activity in my own name is so that I can take responsibility for my own actions.  The buck stops here.  I’m open to having my views challenged and learning from my mistakes.  I also want to find a way to teach tolerance towards others, just in the same way we expect our children to.

I’ll leave you with this TED talk from Juan Enriquez.  Back over on Geekalicious I asked how aware are you of your digital footprint and here Juan explains that your online activity is as permanent as a tattoo and has effects on our personal privacy.

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Point of note:  The comment section remains open for appropriate discussion.  I reserve the right to remove any defamatory or abusive comments as detailed in my disclosure policy.  I respect the right to your opinion but also advocate the need for adult discussion.  Thank you.