Saturday 22 October 2016

Clare Cullen: Ten reasons ‘Trial By Twitter’ needs to stop

Latest ‘shock’ images again lead to equivalent of public flogging

Published 19/08/2013 | 13:59

Latest ‘shock’ images again lead to equivalent of public flogging
Latest ‘shock’ images again lead to equivalent of public flogging

LAST night, images were posted online and the baying mob descended.

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I won't tell you how to find them or link them in this article. There is uncertainty as to the age of the people involved so, in fact, I would actively discourage you from supporting the sharing of any images associated with this incident, if not for their sake then for your own. I am going to do my best to explain why these images and the way they were received was so abhorrent to me without going into detail of the images.


There seems to be a Twitter story every week- rape and death threats, public humiliation, condemnation. It has happened, it is happening and it will continue to happen. It’s bad every time but I want to talk about why it’s bad this time.


1. Social media users are ‘taking sides’ –  expressing opinions that one half is 'disgusting', 'asking for it', 'should be ashamed', while the other half is a 'legend'. If you know, inherently, which is which without me telling you, that's how deep the problem runs.

What’s even worse is that there are more images being circulated which show a reciprocating action, but yet the opinions are the same. The same person is being vilified in both while the same person is being exonerated from both.


2. It would seem social media users have learned nothing from the 'taxi video' incident. Wrongly identifying someone online can ruin their  life. By claiming one of the people is in more than one photo without proof, users are building an idea that may not be true, and they are basing it on a tier system- ‘If that person did A,  they probably did B!' Except that it doesn't work that way. That same idea would prove disastrous in court cases and crime investigations.


3. Cyber-bullying is a real problem. Imagine tens of thousands of people expressing their opinion on you, most of it hurtful, mean, spiteful, some hateful. Imagine thinking the whole world thought you were ‘disgusting’. Imagine people tweeting that you should ‘kill yourself’. There is someone experiencing that as you read this.


4. One person from today’s pictures was 'named' online- multiple times. At least one is considered to be correct. Unfounded claims were made of links to other people, who were named. Twitter and Instagram accounts were allegedly tracked down and posted online. This is so dangerous, yet it happens every time. Sharing something defamatory is just as illegal (and immoral) as posting. Stop sharing from unverified sources- if only to protect yourself.

5. Naming someone is a horrible thing to do. Putting aside the legality, it's simply mean-spirited and cruel. Lives and careers can be destroyed on the Internet, and it is not up to users of Twitter to decide if someone 'deserves' their life ruined or not. People’s lives matter. It’s not up to Twitter to play judge and jury, to place blame or to punish.


6. Social media is becoming the modern-day public flogging. On social media, people are guilty until proven innocent. Witch-hunts are acceptable. We fight so hard for justice and due process offline, but online, we revert to lawlessness.


7. These images point to a wider issue. We live in a sexualised society, where young girls feel pressure to be sexualised and young men feel pressure to be sexually active. We push these young people into adult situations through images, films, music, magazines, articles. We teach them that it’s not just OK, that it’s expected. That we then punish those who then act in a sexualised manner.

We teach them that sex is natural in biology, then we teach them that’s it shameful in religion class. We show them pictures of diseases in a slideshow designed to scare them and then we give them a banana and tell them to put a condom on it. We don’t teach them about sexual consent, sexual respect for themselves and each other. We tell them sex is just for marriage and then use insults like ‘frigid’, ‘virgin’ and ‘slut’. We confuse them and turn them around and then laugh and point and judge when they fall over.

8. Twitter is public, and children can easily gain access. Twitter has not yet removed the images being shared today, despite the fact that a child could log on to Twitter and see these public updates, or easily Google them.

9. What gives anyone the right to judge? Before social media, indiscretions remained whispered rumours that eventually petered out, and lives moved on following temporary embarrassment. What gives anyone the right to judge anyone else, especially under a harsher spotlight than they themselves may have been judged?


10. Twitter users are putting themselves at risk.

The 'out in public' argument does NOT justify sharing something on Twitter, as there is a difference between something happening in a limited public space in the real world and being showcased on a world-wide public platform.

Today, images are being shared where two faces are clearly visible, without knowing the age of either person, using this excuse. The sharing of child porn is illegal. Tweeting, retweeting, sharing on Facebook, reblogging are all sharing. If the people in the images are under 18, a lot of Irish people have put themselves at risk.


I could go on all day. I could talk about an online page set up around these images, already with thousands of members. I could talk about the parents involved, and how they must feel. I could talk about the recent stories of online bullying and suicide. But chances are, it will only further encourage that which what I want to stop, so I won't.

I am not saying that every Twitter user reacted this way. I am only talking about the ones that did.
I am not encouraging any part of this - not the image, not the taking of the image, not the posting of the image and not the sharing of the image. I think it's a dark day for online media and it makes me very, very sad.


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