Not that many years ago the media was the preserve of informed journalists and editors who were able to disseminate information for public consumption, and represent the public interest. All that has changed with the advent of social media where people can share their thoughts, their beliefs, their stories, their past at will. But they can also share ignorant and offensive behaviour. Worse, this week people witnessed a recording of an American announcing to the public his plan to kill, before posting another of him shooting a victim dead, via Facebook.
When has it gone too far? Facebook, the fastest growing social networking site in the world, reacted to remove the material and Mark Zuckerburg pledged Facebook would do all it could to prevent such posts becoming more frequent.
We cannot turn the clock back - social media is an intrinsic part of our lifestyle today. Used responsibly it is a handy marketing tool, a lightning quick electronic message that can reach people instantly - though by its nature too often soundbite than substance - a superb way to keep in touch with the daily lives of friends and relatives - though some may bemoan the lack of writing, posting, and receiving a good old fashioned letter.
But it will not stop all the potential dangers of social media which people, particularly children and the vulnerable, may face each day. How many of us know with whom our children are communicating on social media? What innocent-sounding but insidious game have they downloaded? Anonymity can be dangerous, and according to a 2010 news export in the US, cyber-bullying has spread widely among youth, with 42 per cent reporting they have been victims.
Facebook chairman Mark Zuckerburg has apologised for the recent post and says Facebook is launching a review for reporting harmful content. Is it enough? Calvin Williams of the Cleveland police said “people on social media know the power and I think they know the harm it can do”.
“We’ve talked before about people not living their lives on social media and being truthful on social media and not harming people via social media. And this is a prime example, this is something that should not have been shared around the world. Period.”
Social media by its nature gives individuals, companies, and governments, a global voice. Freedom of expression is a right, and social media provides everybody with that opportunity more than ever before. But it also comes with responsibility. The newspaper industry may be old-fashioned, but it comes with a code of ethics and standards. Unfortunately social media has few.