With the advent of social media and micro-blogging we have all become publishers. Each tweet leaves you open to prosecution; a few weeks back we saw a fourteen year old Dutch girl arrested for ‘jokingly’ threatening to blow up a plane. Sally Bercow was forced to pay a substantial sum of money to Lord McAlpine after wrongly insinuating he was guilty of sexual abuse.
Before the internet allowed us all to share our views the media was dominated by large corporations who were wary of the repercussions of libel and slander; now everyone has the capacity to publish their views everyone needs to think before they tweet.
The internet is a majestic invention capable of positive feats- the Arab Spring has been widely attributed to the spread of democratic ideas and news through sources such as Twitter. Undeniably the internet has a democratising effect. But it also has the danger of seriously damaging the lives of countless people. That picture from last weekend where you were passed out in a puddle of your own vomit? That’s probably online. You dancing on the table after one too many drinks? Yep, that’s most likely on Facebook. We live in an age where employers can see what you are like without having to hire a private investigator- all they need is to whack your name on Google Images and they can find out all about you.
…the internet has a democratising effect…
Likewise, Twitter lets you publicise your views to your heart’s content. But it also means that those uninformed, drunken or discriminatory statements are in the public domain. This is not a unique case. There are plenty of examples of people whose lives have been irreconcilably damaged by old tweets.
There is of course the sacred protection of Freedom of Speech and the Press. But this is reliant on truth; you do not have the right to say absolutely anything you want. Claiming to be a member of Al Qaida and threatening to commit terrorist spreads fear; it is not harmless. Just as insinuating innocent people are guilty of heinous crimes is not victimless.
…those uninformed, drunken or discriminatory statements are in the public domain…
Editing is a necessary part of publishing. Before tweeting think about whether your statement could be misconstrued or interpreted. Freedom of speech does not give you the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre. This is where Twitter is somewhat negative. Everyone has the right to speak, but society has the right to decide on whether these views are acceptable. A number of Twitter users have sent joke threats in an apparent attempt to vindicate this tweet, but it is a futile attempt. I applaud the positive aspects of Twitter and the amazing advancements that free thought brings, but I am equally wary of a population whose every thought is publicised.
The internet is a wondrous invention, but it is equally concerning. It acts as a constant surveillance device which lets government, police and employers know what you have been doing. Be wary of empty threats on Twitter- they may be taken out of context. Equally it is worth thinking about how much of your own negative actions are documented in the undeletable realm of the internet.