The evil of social media

First published on Brand Republic - 29 July 2011

At last year’s General Election, I argued for the more intelligent use of social media in modern warfare.

With the application of a greater depth of human understanding in Libya, I have no doubt that a more successful outcome would have been achieved. It is now nearly August and the protesters are not back in Tripoli where they were on 27 February (as I Tweeted on the day).

Our leaders have blood on their hands.

At Super-injunction time (remember then?), I argued for the media, marketing and advertising industries to pull together to help control the explosion, and valuations, of social media sites especially Facebook and Twitter.

Since then, the admirable withdrawal of advertising from the News of the World was a key driver in its downfall.

Why don’t the same principles apply online?

For we have reached an even darker phase.

The atrocities of mad Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik were fed by his rantings on Facebook and Twitter plus other more obscure sites:

“Lars Buehler, a Norwegian scholar and terrorism expert, said he had debated with Breivik on an extremist website frequented by xenophobes and Islamaphobes all over Europe.”

What site can this have been? I don’t know and don’t really want to know.

But I do know that:

– social media gave Breivik his voice.

– social media connected him to other like-minded nutters.

– social media, arguably, gave him the confidence to do what he did.

So, while recognizing the inevitability of the growth and development of social media – and respecting the principle of freedom of speech – what can we do to detract evil monsters like Breivik?

After all, the hacking scandal has led to public statements, debates in Parliament, Select Committees and all manner of enquiries – not to mention resignations, arrests and criminal charges.

How can there be one law offline and another online?

It seems to me there are two things we can do straight away:

1. As I have argued before, advertisers (who acted individually, rather than as a group, in withdrawing from the News of the World) should agree a Code of Practice for ‘mass-market’ sites like Facebook, Twitter, Google and others.

Such a Code would include these sites being able to identify the human beings who use them so they can be chased down and prosecuted if they break the law.

2. I believe it is a Role of Government to introduce procedures to police the web far more efficiently than anyone does now.

If Esther Rantzen can inspire the launch of Childline, then why can’t we – as an industry – engage with the Government to set up some kind of ‘Online Helpline’ whereby people can report abusive, defamatory or illegal behaviour on the net?

Of course, there always the abominable no-men with reasons why this cannot be done – deluge of messages, too many monitors required, cost etc.

But what other option is there?

At the moment, if you came across a blog or webpage where you were worried that some fruitcake was about to mow down 76 people, what would you do to report it?

Dial 999?

There must be a better way.

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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