The double edged sword of social media

To say that there are two sides of every story is a cliche never more relevant then when referring to the potential for power and destruction with the use of social media. Social media applications have allowed anyone to become a “citizen journalist”, whether it be the seriousness of capturing the tasering of Mr. Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport or the hilarity of some stunt or painful musical number that is posted on Youtube. “News” is no longer controlled and disseminated by a select few; news is created by anyone who considers it “newsworthy”.

Two recent instances of social media having gone wrong have shocked me: the case of a teenager posting the (alleged) rape of a 16 year old girl on Facebook in Pitt Meadows and in the US, Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after video of him having sex with another young man was posted on the internet by his college roomate. He was only 18 years old.

To say that there are two sides of every story is a cliche never more relevant then when referring to the potential for power and destruction with the use of social media. Social media applications have allowed anyone to become a “citizen journalist”, whether it be the seriousness of capturing the tasering of Mr. Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver International Airport or the hilarity of some stunt or painful musical number that is posted on Youtube. “News” is no longer controlled and disseminated by a select few; news is created by anyone who considers it “newsworthy”.

Two recent instances of social media having gone wrong have shocked me: the case of a teenager posting the (alleged) rape of a 16 year old girl on Facebook in Pitt Meadows and in the US, Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge after video of him having sex with another young man was posted on the internet by his college roomate. He was only 18 years old.

In the “old” days, 10 years ago even, news directors would agonize over what they would allow to be reported – warnings of graphic story content are still provided by television news anchors as a courtesy to viewers. And while one could argue that traditional news outlets held too “much power”, there was for the most part, a sincere desire to protect the innocent victims of a crime when reporting said crime and a code of ethics that promoted truth and fairness. I have been interviewed by many reporters over the years who ran a story by me first to ensure its accuracy; this was the norm, not the exception.

I guess in the case of these two recent events, some people would say that Youtube and Facebook are just more prolific forms of spreading rumours, though hearing it through the “grapevine” and actually viewing a rape seem completely different to me. People ask what is wrong with these people who post and view such heinous acts but I think the real issue here is the underlying normalization of rape and homophobia that such posts reveal. A young woman was (allegedly) raped while people watched. A young man was filmed having sex in his college room and outed on the Internet; his shame prompted a suicide.

So while social media is the culprit in the exposition of these terrible events, at the end of the day, does that really matter? Let’s not forget the real culprits here: sexual violence and homophobia are crimes against humanity. Responsible use of social media seems secondary to the fact that young people caused grievous harm to another. I think we should start there.

What do you think?