Thursday 23 August 2012

Social Media and Social Responsibility - a Question

In the style of Sex and the City.... (and unusually for me, a post without pictures - sorry!)

"Do we, as Bloggers, have a responsibility to behave in a certain way towards those reading and commenting on material we put out into the world?"

I, like the majority of my friends, was brought up to believe in a few things; that courtesy costs nothing; that everyone has a right to their opinion even if it contradicts your own; that to resort to swearing in a response to somebody generally indicates a lack of vocabulary; and that you should treat others as you wish to be treated yourself. I was also brought up to understand that all these things taken in combination are what help to maintain a civilised world where debate is welcome.

I'm a member of several online communities - forums, Social networks (Twitter) and an online networking group. Every so often, as in daily life, you encounter someone who has a differing opinion to you on something. It's inevitable, the beauty of the internet is the fact that everyone can meet on an equal footing, without perceptions of class, status, race or religion getting in the way, and thus people are often far more ready to venture their opinions than they would be on a face-to-face level where they may feel intimidated by the people they are speaking with. On the face of it, this is a great thing, meaning as it does that all sorts of people who would never usually be brave enough to venture their opinions for fear of being told that those opinions are wrong (they're not, they're most likely just different, or at worse misinformed) are willing to air their views - often adding greatly to what can become an interesting debate.

The Worldwide Web is a fantastic tool, giving anyone who wants the right to set up a platform - an online soapbox if you like, from which they can share ideas, views, opinions etc. There are blogs out there on every subject under the sun, I bet most of us have a right old mix on their reading lists, yes? I know a quick run through mine takes you from Photography to Philosophy, via Frugality and Parenthood. Two of those subjects are things that I have no personal experience of, but I find the writers on the subject to be entertaining, and as a result, their posts make me think about subjects I would otherwise have no direct dealings with - which has to be a good thing. If we're using the web for the purposes of self-promotion, whether for financial gain or otherwise, do we have a responsibility to do so in a polite and mannerly way though? After all, if you were in a discussion with someone in the office, or on a night out, and they happened to say they disagreed with something you'd said, you wouldn't turn to them and say "I don't care what you think - F-Off!" would you? Just imagine what the world be like if everyone started behaving that way - horrendous, full of conflict, and with the only people willing to risk sharing their opinions being the largest and strongest, very probably backing up their views with force! Online forums have huge problems with these "Keyboard Commandos" - basically bullies who enjoy using their online personas to make others' lives a misery, or to trample on them. If challenged face to face, the majority of these people would cower away from any conflict, but from the safety of an anonymous position they are brave as lions!

The online networking group I am part of had an issue a while back with one member who suddenly, inexplicably turned on another. The victim is an intelligent, articulate and confident lady, (as on the face of it was the perpetrator) however she was left at a total loss as to how best to deal with what was actually a rather unpleasant and personal attack. Thankfully a couple of other members of the group happened upon what had begun and challenged the behaviour. Predictably (this is a well known ploy on forums) the perpetrator then posted something to the effect of "Well it's best if I just leave then!" - a classic  trick aiming to turn the focus back onto herself and redefine her role in the situation as the victim. The intention of this is almost invariably to have other members of the group "turn" on the original victim and leave the perpetrator as "king of the castle" as it were. What actually happened on this occasion was that I spotted the "turning" post, and responded saying that if she felt that way, perhaps that would be for the best. Unsurprisingly, she was gone within a few hours - if she was not able to become top of our particular pile, she had no reason to linger, and like most bullies, she wasn't able to handle being stood up to.

When abusive behaviour takes place on social networking sites or blogs, a further consideration becomes relevant - and that is the network or hosting site's own policy on use of abusive language. Most Forums have very clear rules on this, and reporting such things to their moderators gets dealt with swiftly and harshly, with the content being removed and the abuser warned, or in serious cases, banned. When the abuse appears on something like Twitter though, or on somebody's blog, it becomes harder to deal with - firstly finding a method of reporting can be difficult, and secondly there is a perception of that being someone's personal space so is it correct to be offended by it in any case? "If you don't like what you see here, don't read it!" is a popular retort, but by the time you have become aware of its offensive nature (whether that is racist, sexist or simply unpleasant) you have already read it and BEEN offended!

So - you read the comment you consider offensive, or that you simply don't agree with, and think "Do you know, I can't let that go - I need to speak up on this" and you post a response, a comment, or a reply saying "I'm afraid I think your standpoint on this is wrong...". Jason Manford took a great stance on this recently, writing an item on the subject of the deeply unpleasant and offensive comments made about Gary Barlow on Twitter & Facebook following the tragic loss of Gary's & his wife's daughter and his appearance at the Olympic closing ceremony shortly after. Most of us of course don't have the public profile of Jason, meaning our challenges to online-antisocial behaviour go mostly unnoticed. That doesn't mean that those challenges are any less valuable though, or that they should not be made.

In most cases, challenges invoke debate and consideration from all parties, and an amiable truce is reached, but increasingly now it seems that some people think it is acceptable to simply deal out abuse at the challenger, regardless of how politely the challenge was worded. Now, I would suggest that when posting something into the great ether that is the worldwide web, we need to consider first that those views are being posted into an environment that can be seen, and read by anyone. By having the facility for others to comment, that is a tacit acceptance of the fact that we are inviting others to do so, and some of those people may have differing views from our own. I don't have comment moderation on my blog - I get few enough comments as a rule that it's not an issue, but I also have the expectation that those commenting will do it politely, civilly, and without using language that may offend either me or other readers. Comments that breach those guidelines will be edited out. What I will NOT do, however, is edit comments to make it appear that everyone responding to a post agrees with me - naturally it is the Blogger's right to do this, but does that make it right?

To sum up I'll borrow a quotation - "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it" - to which I would add "So long as you do so in a way acceptable to polite society, thank you!"


ps - Should you wish to reproduce this post you are welcome to do as long as it is reproduced in full, with no alterations, and is credited to


gillibob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dreamer said...

This is a very well written and balanced post. Manners cost nothing whether it be in real life or virtual life, we all should act in a civilized manner regardless of whether we agree or disagree with an opinion.

Robyn said...

Thanks - I hate reading that "if you don't like what you read, go away" type thing - if you're going to put content out there, then you have to accept that differing views will happen along. I've read a few things lately that have made me thing who the heck does the writer think they are!

Robyn said...

Cheers Dreamer - I'm inclined to agree - a little courtesy goes a long way and I fail to understand why people behave differently online as opposed to face-to-face. Sign of the times perhaps?

gillibob said...

Sorry I am going to edit my post, as I wrote in a hurry and didn't check it.
I just read a response to a poster on a blog I happen to enjoy immensely for its approach in general. I was a bit shocked at the F' off response; and it has the same disclaimer as in 'If you don't like what you read then don't comment.'It have just been a knee jerk response as in a bad day/life experience has happened and I await to see if that is the case.
A well reasoned and thought provoking response by yourself on the attitude and responsibilities of bloggers in general; and I applaud it.

gillibob said...

And the editing still didn't publish in full- some days I give up :-)

Robyn said...

The first comment here was meant to be for you Gill but didn't show as such! PAH - silly technology!

Miss Piggy Bank said...

Another good blog x