Social Media – the dark side

Social media has transformed the way we communicate with each other with things such as Facebook, and the whole family of similar applications it has spawned. These allow us to
27 Feb 2016 19:08
Social Media – the dark side

Social media has transformed the way we communicate with each other with things such as Facebook, and the whole family of similar applications it has spawned.

These allow us to keep in touch, to maintain friendships and acquaintances at long distances and to keep these people involved in our lives.

This year marks the 21st anniversary of the removals of the restrictions on the commercial use of internet.

And in that time the growth of the use of internet and the development of applications has been incredible and that explosion appears to have a lot of life yet.

But while the opening up of the net to personal communications and the speedy adaption of the various applications by business around the world, there is, over the last five to 10 years, a darker side that has shown the same sort of exponential growth as the more acceptable personal communications use of the system has seen.

This is the adaption of internet as a communications device that resembles the services provided by the mainline media, specifically newspapers and television.

This is a potentially beneficial use of the net, but there is a significant element of sites that misuse the communications spread the net provides to disseminate information to suit a personal agenda.

They do this knowing that the normal rule of law does not apply.

Not because the rules are not good but because there is no easy mechanism to prosecute anyone who uses the net to pass on deliberately incorrect, misleading, simply mischievous, malicious and defamatory information disguised as journalism.


Misuse here

In Fiji, this misuse of the internet seems to be growing rapidly, generally fueled by people who once lived in Fiji and left to reside overseas, but still carry anger and attitudes.

These sites target the government and more often specific people in the government and associated civil services because they have taken action or implemented policies the blogger does not agree with or targets citizens whose actions they do not like.

It is generally because the people being attacked have achieved great success in certain areas of business.

To disagree is perfectly acceptable (journalists often do this in commentary or opinion pieces such as this).

But to use lies, misleading information or invective to back up the communication is definitely not acceptable.

The so-called blogger uses all of these (and much worse) because there is no device or legal mechanism that can hold the author responsible for what is written, and every blogger knows that.


Example of criminal journalism

There are many examples of this type of criminal journalism.

One recent case (not a suitable word because, unfortunately, this blog will never become a case) involves a well known ex-police officer who left Fiji under suspicious circumstances, after failing to sustain a case of corruption in the High Court against a prominent citizen.

The prosecuting department applied, the day after the case was introduced, to withdraw and the Judge agreed.

The defendant requested that the case proceed so that his name was cleared but the Judge (quite correctly in law) advised that this could not happen.

The person most involved in bringing the prosecution immediately left Fiji, with some other issues being investigated and took up residence overseas.

Now, 10 years later, the man is using a blog site to renew the attack and is presenting fabricated, so called evidence, to attempt to defame the Fijian citizen.

Not only did he claim the court case was terminated because someone was corrupt but a whole series of totally new allegations were added, including claims of pedophilia, (always a good one to throw in).

When the Fijian citizen responded on the blog site correcting the claims, the blogger blocked his access. There are hundreds of such cases in Fiji.


A strong argument

There is an argument, and a strong one, that restricting the use of the internet for the dissemination of information is a restriction of free speech.

This is the stance of government and the legal community worldwide.

But free speech comes with responsibilities, the most important one being that the information must be the truth.

And in normal circumstances there are legal mechanisms to provide a guarantee that these responsibilities are upheld and that redress can be sort (including the immediate restriction of the dissemination of the information until the matter is investigated).

It appears that the internet is not normal circumstances. Most governments around the world are trying to find ways to stop the abuse of the right to freedom of speech such use of the internet by bloggers constitutes, but the way forward is painfully slow.

And innocent people continue to be damaged by the lack of control.


Creating awareness

Many people are working hard on this issue and it is suggested that a campaign to create awareness of the need for people to be careful in accepting the information that is contained in the numerous blogs should be mounted.

This should be done by a body with the right credibility (and the body needs to be very well regarded by the community).

One other step (maybe a radical one) is to have Internet Service Providers carry a super on sites where it is considered the information is not reliable.

The problem with this is, of course, that it would be seen as censorship of free speech.

What can you do to help stamp out this blight on the world of journalism.

First, understand that there are a number of very professional blog sites and use those but always question if the information you are being offered is true.

A good yardstick is to look for an agenda. If there are obvious targets and constant exposure of a limited number of people, you are probably on a site you can’t trust.

The best thing to do is press the close button and spend you valuable time somewhere else that you trust.

No single piece of breaking news lasts for twenty continuous weeks, and even if it did you should be bored and want more variety.

If no one opened a blog site it would soon disappear because the blogger only wants attention and the closure of a mischievous blog would be no loss to the world.


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