Sunday 4 December 2016

Why I ratted out my nephew after his shocking comments

Sex banter should be in a private forum, says Jennifer Walsh*

Jennifer Walsh

Published 20/04/2011 | 05:00

Picture posed
Picture posed

I am a single woman in my 40s with no children. My siblings have numerous children between them.

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I joined Facebook to keep in contact with my friends and family around the world, and to easily share photos, and it has provided a wonderful service in this respect.

In the past year, several of my nieces and nephews have joined Facebook.

All were added to my list of friends and we have enjoyed dipping in and out of each other's lives.

Things changed for me when my nephew, Paul*, emigrated a year ago.

Suddenly all of his friends and family were treated to his many whims. Although the majority of his comments and photos were uninteresting to me, if it's legal, and my objection is simply of taste, I can opt out by clicking 'Unfriend'.

Knowing that his 15-year-old cousin views these posts made it harder to stomach. I didn't terminate our virtual relationship because I want to maintain some connection with Paul.

Two months ago, Paul posted a comment that shocked me. It referred to Paul's sex the night before with an indigenous woman.

He went on to insult her looks and character, and to explain that he had received results from the doctor stating that he had contracted several STDs, including HIV.

My first reaction was one of horror at the force of his X-rated language.

Then I worried that my nephew had some serious diseases. Also, I lived in the same country when I was younger, and I felt Paul was 'letting the side down' by being an Irish racist in a country that had given him employment and the lifestyle he had hoped for.

Some hours later, I decided to appeal to his better nature by adding: 'Please remove the above comment'. His post remained and soon his friends added their comments, all as offensive and graphic as Paul's.

I was disappointed that his comments had been engaged with and encouraged, but I was relieved to see that Paul's health scares on the post were actually part of this 'joke'.

The next day, I went in search of a link I had never used: 'Report/block this person'. Under 'Inappropriate wall post' I reported 'explicit/racist' information.

I had no idea what action would be taken, nor whether my nephew would be informed who had initiated it.

I decided not to draw attention to the matter, and to wait for the outcome. I was also curious to know how Facebook dealt with these issues.

Bearing in mind my support for freedom of speech, users are bound by Facebook's 'Statement of Rights and Responsibilities', which includes: 'You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.'

The following day, I logged on to Facebook to view the result of my actions. The post was gone, as were the comments connected to it.

A week later, another post by Paul appeared.

This was similar to the previous one, about local women, sex and alcohol, and all in the same language. I reported the comment and within 24 hours, the post was removed.

I checked to see who in our family was receiving these wall posts. We share more than a dozen family members as 'friends'.

The youngest is my 15-year-old niece, and her parents are also on the list, so I decided that it was their responsibility to monitor the situation.

Because my friends include employers, pre-teen relatives, and my university professors, I imagine that I'm writing to each personally, in order to judge suitability.

I recently discussed my Facebook issues with friends. It turns out that most people I know have similar issues related to appropriateness.

We decided that people ought to have two accounts -- one that displayed censored information and photos, and the other would be for select, 'friends' with whom there was practically complete freedom.

I wondered if my issue is about different personality types, or if Paul and I are simply examples of a generation gap. We were born 17 years apart, though his was a rural childhood and mine, urban.

I believe Paul and I received similar upbringings in regards to discipline and respect within a Christian value system. In the 1980s, I learned that the world was waiting, and that the harder I worked, the further I went.

When Paul became a teen at the turn of the millennium, mobile phones, Big Brother, PlayStations and the internet told him that he could have it all, at the touch of a button -- he just had to find his audience.

Although the above issues occurred within my family, my call for appropriate social networking isn't a personal one. And I'm not interested in censoring people: what you do in the privacy of your own home is up to you.

Unless, that is, you are broadcasting an adult story in offensive language, and even more so when you know that it is being received by minors.

With this in mind, it must become our responsibility in society that we self-censor.

Where social networking is concerned, this is very easy, and will have a major impact on a huge number of people.

Meanwhile, I hope Paul is appreciating the good life that our friends abroad have provided him with.

* All names have been changed

Irish Independent

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