Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Social media brings out our darkest side

Editor's Viewpoint

Social media as it was intended to be used is a very useful tool. It is a great way for people to keep in touch instantly, no matter where they are in the world, and there have been many examples of people being able to summon help in times of distress.

But the dark side of the technology is also prevalent. In the latest example at the weekend, DUP leader Arlene Foster and party colleague Carla Lockhart were the victims of vicious comments after they posted a picture of them together as a social event.

Sadly, this is not an isolated example. As Carla wrote movingly in this newspaper earlier this week she expects some people to disagree strongly on policy matters but when the criticism becomes personal it crosses the line.

Nigel Dodds the party's deputy leader rightly condemned what he called the wild west culture of anything goes on social media. In the House of Commons he called for steps to be taken to bring social media platforms to account when postings go beyond what any reasonable person would call fair comment.

That is the problem with social media. It gives a platform to people who hold all kinds of extreme views which pay no heed to decency, never mind the laws of libel.

Those who work in the public eye, like our politicians, are often the chosen target. What was unusual in the trolling of Carla was that she was able to identify some of her abusers. She wondered if they behaved in such a revolting manner in their normal lives or if they took on a different persona when getting behind a keyboard.

Sometimes the abuse can take even more sinister turns. There have been numerous incidents of young people taking their own lives as a result of cyber bullying, and a Tyrone teenager took his own life when he was tricked into sending explicit photographs to an online groomer who then blackmailed him.

Social media is a relatively new phenomenon and new platforms come online very regularly. So far it has appeared impossible to moderate, edit or delete abusive postings before the damage is done. The rush has been to bring the technology to the public rather than find a way to ensure that it is not used for malicious purposes.

The exact status of those who control the platforms is open to debate and makes bringing them to account over content difficult. New legislation is needed for the law to catch up with the technology.

Belfast Telegraph

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