A relatively new phenomenon, social media developed rapidly without a code of conduct to guide behaviour. The bullying, harassment and hate speech ubiquitous online, is reminiscent of human history at a time when barbaric tribes raped, pillaged and conquered the next-door village, often for differences in opinion. Base instinct ruled, serving the important purpose of survival and expansion. As we evolved, our needs changed, we developed manners and etiquette to control instinctual behaviour. Some argue that the online world has caused regression in our social conduct.
Social media and news sites allowing comments are prime examples of where the fine balance between freedom of speech and hate speech is tipped towards bullying and harassment. The sites that are well-moderated tend to be more civil, although free speech advocates may consider this to be censorship.
Online hate speech
Vandalism propagates vandalism and it’s no different online. The Broken Windows Theory, coined in 1982, posits that where vandalism is highly visible, it becomes acceptable. Garry Crawford, a UK sociology professor, compares this to the notorious hooliganism at football games in the ’80s: “English football got a reputation as a violent place, a site of frequent hooligan outbursts. The subsequent press and public focus on football hooliganism then only reinforces and helps solidify the idea of the English football stadium as a regular and legitimate site of violence. The internet does not create aggressive behaviours, just like football doesn’t create hooligans,” he says.
Although the medium of writing has the benefit of edits, the immediate nature of the internet compels response without pause orself-restraint. Along with a perceived sense of anonymity, this is driving irresponsible online behaviour. Read more about when freedom of speech is offensive within a South African context.
What is online etiquette?
Bullying, hate speech, trolling, these are extreme behaviours. But what of basiconline etiquette, asks Eleanor Mitrovich Potter, Consumer Executive at Autopage. “Responding to email in all-caps is shouting,” she says. “Would a person who writes in red capitals, shout at me like that in real life? There are no rules of engagement, no basic human decency. And the problem on social media is that those comments or posts are there forever – they’re in the cloud and they’re linked to you.” Job-seekers are often asked for a social profile review from companies, and it’s worth considering the consequences of posts.
Sometimes it is merely a matter of consideration – how often are you asked permission to have your photo posted on social media? “In professional and commercial circles, you are required to ask the consent of the subject to use their picture,” says Mitrovich Potter, “but in the online social environment, these rules simply do not exist.” On a sinister note, we should be more aware of our posts, in a world where photos can be copied, altered and used for commercial or personal gain. “Child pornography and paedophilia are at the highest levels ever, yet we do not consider the consequences of posting photographs of children on the web. These images make their way onto the darknet[an overlay network accessed with special software or authorisation, using non-standard communication protocols] and are sold and accessed by people who exploit this content.”
Online content is easily accessible, it is permanent, and it is used by criminals and bullies. Read a few tips on protecting yourself from cybercrime. We need to be more aware of how and what we share, both from a security perspective and simple good manners. “The progress and evolution of our species is incredible,” says Mitrovich Potter, “but we need a profound shift in how people engage and become aware of the consequences of their engagement.”
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