Sunday, 11 August 2013

Silence is Golden?

Last week's #twittersilence has been labelled by some (notably the esteemed Samantha Brick and her pet ego) as a total failure. Honestly, I agree, but it might be better that way.

Its important to acknowledge the severity of online bullying, now known as Trolling. Just because Mary Beard happens to be a famous classicist who spoke out about her victimisation does not make her case unique, in fact it speaks volumes about how widespread the problem has become. If minor academic celebrities are sent death threats, what exactly goes on behind the scenes in the world of social media?

Users of the now ubiquitous technology, particularly the younger generation, have an unusual approach to manners in an online setting. That is, a lack thereof. Unlike the proverbial playground, the internet is safe from the prying eyes of teachers and parents alike. All etiquette that comes into play 'in real life' dissolves here- its a dog eat dog world wide web. The very fact that, in the aftermath of all this jazz, twitter cooperatively offered to install an 'abuse' button sheds a few rays of light on the dark underworld of social media.

And along with good manners goes responsibility, skipping off into the sunset and leaving a void behind. 'John' might not be a very nice boy, but he'd never threaten his teacher with his penknife in real life- God knows what kind of trouble that could get you in. But he might log into his pseudonymic twitter account that evening and give her 140 characters of his mind. Because nobody can get in trouble for that, right? Wrong. As Mary Beard has so consistently pointed out, a death threat is a death threat is a death threat. A criminal offence is not decriminalised behind the anonymity of an online persona. And anonymity? I know enough people with a clump of blu-tack shuttering their webcam to take Facebook's privacy settings with a pinch of salt. But I digress... Freedom of speech. Is it freedom of speech to be granted the liberty of bandying violent promises around under the guise of a clever anagram of your surname? 'You taught me language; and my profit on't / Is I know how to curse...'

The platform provided by social media and the (current) lack of censorship involved in that may be handing a gun to your pursuer, but it is also - I state the obvious - one of the most valuable and unique aspects of the internet. With the internet has come the age of whistle-blowing, of prying the hands of the corrupt away from the eyes of the people. It has made information so easily accessible, opinions so easily shared, petitions so easily signed. Of course, minimal policing means someone somewhere is going to abuse their newfound power, but we've know that was going to happen since bloody Plato told us so. What we should be focusing on is how we can use this platform for the better.

If I had been walking down my slightly shady road in south east London and a slightly shady character had thrown a slightly shady comment my way, I would have walked a bit faster. There would be scenes of muted outrage in my living room, someone might throw a swearword across a picnic table in a busy beer garden. Revolution! If the same comment had been preceded by an @the_observist and confined to the remaining 126 characters, with a lewd # thrown in for good measure, the world is my jury. The firing squad is 277,599,976 strong, the consequences are public shaming and widespread outrage, action and a global awareness of a problem that usually slips under the radar. Especially if I happen to be a demi celebrity with a famous @ to my name.

Caitlin Moran, I do love you so, but on this occasion you've missed a golden opportunity. Why use your right to remain silent? It's finally possible to make a loud enough noise to make a difference.

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