The Malta Independent 14 April 2024, Sunday
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Social Media

Peter Fenech Wednesday, 22 May 2013, 10:24 Last update: about 11 years ago

The advent of social media in the last decade has taken the world and its institutions by surprise. It is a new reality that we are all experiencing and learning to adapt to and work with.

On the internet, Facebook and Twitter lead the pack, with different functions but each with their consequences. This begs the question whether we consider the development of social media as being positive or negative. The reality is that, whichever way our personal conclusions lie, there is no turning back and we will continue to experience further developments in this phenomenon.

Social media has brought with it the anonymous invasion of one’s privacy. It has also brought with it a real-time portable means of communication at little or no cost, as well as access to an immense volume of information and knowledge with real time access. It has changed the face of research and our younger generations have lost no time in taking to it.

There is no doubt that social media has the positive aspect of keeping people in touch with little effort, communicating with everyone everywhere as though they were in the same room. It has given the possibility of being in when you are out, of being at your office when you are, possibly, travelling on the other side of the globe. There can be no criticising of this new commodity, a commodity that has made our lives not only easier but also faster, and not only more available but always available. Gone are the days of writing letters; today’s young people do not even know the cost of a stamp to post a local letter and some of them have probably never sent a letter in their lives.

This is a new reality with many spin-offs.

One of the consequences of all this, however, is the loss of privacy – the fact that you may, without even realising, be making your life more public than ever. It now does not only depend on you but also on your friends and many others who may, through the circulation of photography online, release your data or other information, making you a person with publicly available information about you. The bigger risk of all this media is surely to our youngsters, who have taken to social media as a duck takes to water. They have done so without analysing the risks: without being properly informed of the consequences and the pitfalls of their choices. This is surely one of the negatives to which society is reacting rather slowly when it comes to introducing corrective measures.

The problem with this development is not the development itself, which I consider to be positive and with which I am at ease; the problem lies elsewhere. It lies, as in many other developments, in its abuse and there is much abuse and some with serious, tragic consequences.

This new media has made us all susceptible to any Tom, Dick or Harry’s criticism; it has given Joe Public a medium and a direct avenue to talk about anything and anyone, which previously was reserved solely for editors of newspapers and broadcasters.

It has given everybody a means of declaring and sharing their opinions on everyone and everything in real time. It has furthermore given the possibility to do so under a nom de plume.

This new scenario has to be assessed and, in my opinion, addressed. It is not acceptable that this new medium falls under the responsibility of no specific authority. It is not acceptable that we permit a free-for-all in this medium.

It is high time that the matter be discussed at international level and binding measures be taken to regulate the field. Countries need to take control of the registration of domains and websites; apart from this industry being a potential revenue generator, this laissez-faire attitude is resulting in a web of abuse. People have to be made aware that they are responsible for their postings online. This week saw one of the few prosecutions in court as a result of someone’s post on facebook.

Offensive sites are sprouting up with transatlantic IP addresses and with no possibility of sanctions. The reasoning behind taking control of what goes viral is not a question of censorship, but of ensuring that people are held responsible for their comments. The times of nom de plumes should be declared over and blogging should require a person’s identity card or passport verification before participation. The authorities concerned need to study this phenomenon and its potential regulation, bringing forward their proposals for discussion at large.

This is a question of regulation in the interests of society and not a question of censorship. It is an initiative that the government should promote and surely will attract much support, considering that the main targets of these comments are usually politicians.

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