Friday, May 15, 2015

The Dangers Of Being A Social Media Vigilante

IMAGE : MORGUEFILE.COM |  Being A Social Vigilante
Here's a good lesson for all of us to consider if we ever choose to become a social media vigilante.

Earlier this week, a Dad was shopping alone when he spotted a life size Star Wars figure outside Target. He promptly decided to take a selfie in front of it for his kids. (Yup, a little nerdy, but sweet and harmless nonetheless). There were other children around him waiting for their turn and as he held up his camera phone to take a pic of himself, a woman assumed he was photographing in the direction of where her children were standing. Thinking he was a predator, she promptly snapped a pic of him, shared it on her Facebook account, publicly accused him of being "a creep" while calling for everyone to keep an eye out for him and report him to the police.

A social media frenzy then ensued, and it didn't take long until the man's wife recognised him, in horror. The man, a father of three who was obviously devastated and humiliated by this misunderstanding, promptly checked into his local police station to explain himself and to have his phone images thoroughly inspected. He was deemed to be innocent and the matter was closed. The woman who shared the post, after realising her mistake thanks to the wrath of the online community who berated her for the devastation she had caused an innocent man, publicly apologised and conveyed her own heartbreak about the way she was treated online for her incorrect assumptions in the first place. Still following? Read the article here.

Sadly, our society has learned to make fairly hasty and extreme judgement calls around the subject of men and little kids. I'm certainly in favour of vigilance but I also subscribe to the theory that men should not be considered to be predators before they've proven otherwise. With regard to this case however, I would say that there are some important social media lessons we can learn from this terrible misunderstanding. While social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are great tools for getting your message out to an infinite number of people quickly when you lose your dog, it's also a great way to ruin the lives and reputations of others through carelessness, public shaming and haste.  Social media gives people a megaphone in a virtual crowd and provides a good dose of dutch courage to have their say, to feel popular and to spruik a message which doesn't necessarily need to be substantiated before it spreads. But what people often don't consider, is that not only are there consequences for the person at the centre of a witch hunt such as this, but there is often a significant amount of hate and backlash for the person doing the posting if indeed they are being unfair and/or inaccurate in their public judgement. In addition, it's easy to forget that forever more there is an online record of an incident like this one for all to see, regardless of the outcome. And, as we know, judgements will be made about both parties here for as long as the story exists in this space.

The art of learning healthy online interaction really is a minefield where every step needs to be considered from all sides before it's taken. And the lessons just keep on coming as almost daily we see others (and hopefully not ourselves) make hasty public misjudgements of others and consequently wear huge personal consequences for their mistake. So by all means, let me know online when old 'Fido' is missing - I'll be the first to back you and share your cries for help. But we should all remember (and where appropriate teach our kids) to make well-considered judgement calls online before we become outspoken social media vigilantes.

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