Social media – force for good or evil?

Yesterday saw an escalation of the power of social media in two different, but related arenas. First up was the new ‘advertising-free’ Alan Jones show on 2GB. General Manager of Macquarie Radio Network announced Mr. Jones’ show would run without advertisements. Macquarie chairman, Russell Tate, said they had taken “… this unprecedented decision to suspend advertising in the Alan Jones Breakfast Show until further notice so that all of our advertisers are on an equal footing, can regroup and discuss with us the way forward”. Mr. Jones said on air that he had been the victim of cyber bullying and that if such bullying happened elsewhere, the police would be called in.

Later in the day, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, conducted a Facebook question and answer session in order to discuss education reforms, in particular the Gonski report. Whilst most of the interaction was positive, some respondents took the chance to post offensive remarks about Ms. Gillard, going as far as to inquire about her recently deceased father. The offensive comments were removed from the Prime Minister’s Facebook page by a moderator.

Read more in the Sydney Morning Herald or watch the ABC news coverage.

The genie is out of the bottle

Delivering the Alfred Deakin Lecture last night, Opposition spokesman for communications and broadband, Malcolm Turnbull commented that Mr. Jones was not a victim of cyberbullying and that social media now allows thousands of Australians to speak back “unedited and unmediated”.

And this is what happened on Facebook to the Prime Minister. While her office has every right to conduct a conversation on Facebook, it cannot expect to control the discussion and potential posts which are rude, disparaging, even libelous. Such posts can, of course be removed, but not until after they have gone live.

So this week we have evidence that the conversation is no longer one way. The social media genie is indeed out of the bottle and we are now able to make any comment we wish, on websites, Facebook pages and in the Twittersphere. We can also join online campaigns, such as the recent push to deny fishing rights to the supertrawler the Abel Tasman and the petition to discourage advertising on Mr. Jones’ radio program.

Is this cyberbullying? I don’t think so. I think it is freedom of speech. We live in a free country, so what could possibly be wrong with using our voices online, as long as our comments are courteous?

Cyberbullying is much darker than disagreeing with a company or media personality. True cyberbullying is a sustained and deliberate attack on individuals to harm them – as witness teenage suicides after persistent personal abuse online.

The tables have turned. Instead of citizens only receiving media information and opinions, thanks to the internet, we can all be citizen authors. I believe this is a positive development – as long, I repeat, as the discussion is courteous. As Voltaire is reported to have said in the 18th Century, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Go Voltaire, go Malcolm!!!!

What do you think?

Is social media a force for good or evil?

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