The Malta Independent 9 March 2021, Tuesday

Social media

Mark Debono Debono Sunday, 26 May 2013, 08:47 Last update: about 8 years ago

I could only chalk it down to a huge misunderstanding, but Peter Fenech’s 19 May article in this newspaper certainly shocked and surprised me. Fenech’s opinions were expertly laid out, but some of the conclusions he drew were rather worrying, and the inaccuracies in the piece did not help make his point. Ironically enough, the article made the rounds of the social networks fairly quickly, drawing the ire of experts, fans and proponents in varying measures of vehemence. One commenter succinctly put it as “Dialogue. I speak. You listen.”, while others were markedly more vocal in their approach.

What exactly was wrong with Fenech’s article?

The piece hit its first snag just seven lines in when it said, “Social media has brought with it the anonymous invasion of one’s privacy.” Of course this is true of anyone who does use the social media, but the fact remains that social media uptake is entirely a voluntary matter and to be dramatic about it, no one is out there holding guns to people’s heads and forcing them to join Twitter.

For my part, I willingly disclose some information about myself on my various social profiles, which numbered around five at the last count, and I have no problem with anyone in the world knowing what I willingly put out there. Of course, a number of people I know are not of the same mind, and so refuse to create social media profiles.

The word ‘anonymous’ is also a misnomer when used in this context, given that social networks have various privacy controls, ranging from protected tweets on Twitter (where one must approve users before they can see one’s tweets) to the hugely varied privacy controls on Facebook which can be tailored infinitely. Sadly for Fenech, this part of the article rapidly betrays his complete lack of familiarity with the very thing he is attempting to grapple. To put it simply, any usage of the social media is a trade off in the great tradition of Marshall McLuhan in that while they are free to use and readily connect us to all corners of the world instantly, they in turn open a window onto us, allow us to be advertised to and sometimes sell some of our data to advertisers and data companies. If one is not comfortable with this trade off, one should refrain from the social media completely. The fact that Fenech seems more concerned with what someone might post publicly on Facebook rather than the admittedly much more concerning matter of advertisers being able to peek into a user’s search history demonstrates that he knows very little of the actual workings behind social networks and what finances them.

Mr Fenech also reasons in favour of more international control on the social media and says that “taking control of what goes viral is not a question of censorship, but of ensuring that people are held responsible for their comments”, but in doing so, he fatally exposes his poor understanding of even what the term to ‘go viral‘ means.

Additionally, Fenech states that, “blogging should require a person’s identity card or passport verification before participation”. However, this veers into very dangerous territory indeed and raises two questions.

Firstly, what does Mr Fenech understand by ‘blogging’? Does he mean ‘comment’, the unfortunate erroneous association often perpetrated in this regard? A comment is not a blog; this is truly fundamental knowledge for anyone who would wish to dissect and critique online practices.

Secondly, would Mr Fenech suggest that the Tunisian and Egyptian bloggers, instrumental in bringing about the events that led to the Arab Spring

should have had their details logged with the autocratic state authorities?

I understand and indeed commend Mr Fenech’s undoubtedly positive sentiment in that he would like less harm taking place as a direct consequence of our utterly ubiquitous state of connectivity. However, he must not be so naive as to think that the Internet could actually be controlled in any such way. Essentially, there is no overruling authority on the Internet, no big switch that could kill the Internet, and it’s worked well enough thus far, bringing us innovation we could never have dreamed of just a decade ago. Once again, this idea that the Internet can be controlled in any such way is hugely mistaken and betrays a lack of fundamental knowledge.

Secondly, such control as advocated by Fenech, does, in and of itself, signify censorship on some level. Whereas in the days of print media, the person in the street needed ‘right of reply’ laws and a letter to the editor in order to address a grievance, nowadays the same person has the power to take it up himself/herself online. In fact, I myself did so on my own website in order to signal my disagreement with Fenech’s piece. My rebuttal piece, entitled ‘Social Media – A Huge Misunderstanding’, may be read at http://systemato.com/blog/social-media-a-huge-misunderstanding/

Fenech also delivers an argument against noms de plume, which are a time-honoured method of passing on messages when one fears for one’s safety. Great works have been written under noms de plume, so would Mr Fenech suggest that one of the Founding Fathers of the US, Benjamin Franklin ought have been censured for his extensive use of nom de plume? After all, using names such as Anthony Afterwit and Alice Addertongue, Franklin humorously examined society, spread gossip, or exposed the flaws in conventional thought.

 While I can understand Mr Fenech’s trepidation when it comes to social media, as I hear similar thoughts from a number of my clients, one must truly be cautious not to err and tar everyone with the same brush. I invite Mr Fenech to read what I suggest my clients read on my own website, Systemato.com.

Social media is about maintaining a dialogue and creating one where it never existed before. Surely this cannot be reprehensible!

In conclusion, as I stated in the beginning of the piece, the problem with going on a rant about social media is that, all too often, it exposes the writer’s deep mistrust and unfortunate misunderstanding of the benefits and perils which social media is both blessed and cursed with.

In the great scheme of things, the social media is only the latest in a long line of developments in human communication, developments which give the person in the street a voice to proclaim his/her view on a fairly level platform. Just as with media organisations, there are highly reputable, honourable and good-willed people out there, as well as charlatans and people who just want to watch the world burn, to quote one of my favourite ‘gone viral’ memes.

 

About the author

Mr Debono is a consultant copywriter, social media specialist and email marketing expert. He has been reading since he could make letters out and absolutely loves the social media. He runs an online marketing business called Systemato and in his spare time blogs, reads about technology, watches political dramas and plays music.

 

Link for online versionhttp://systemato.com/services/social-media-marketing/

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