One of the ‘givens’ these days is that if you put your head above the parapet by voicing an opinion, sooner or later someone is going to belittle you, insult you or even threaten you. This report looks into this phenomenon as it affects people in public life: politicians especially, but not exclusively.
“So what?”, you might think. “What does this have to do with ed tech?” Good question, and here’s the answer. First, as the report states:
“The widespread use of social media has been the most significant factor accelerating and enabling intimidatory behaviour in recent years. Although social media helps to promote widespread access to ideas and engagement in debate, it also creates an intensely hostile online environment. Some have felt the need to disengage entirely from social media because of the abuse they face, and it has put off others who may wish to stand for public office.”
Of course, it is not people in public life who disengage from social media. I’ve met teachers who don’t blog or take part in Twitter discussions because of their concern about being bullied because of their views (or just for the hell of it: who knows?). Speaking as someone who has had to put up with nastiness online, I understand their position. But I don’t see why these people should win.
Related: “So you’ve been publicly shamed”, by Jon Ronson (Amazon affiliate link). I reviewed the book here: What I've Been Reading: So You've Been Publicly Shamed.
The second reason this report may be of interest is that one of the report’s recommendations is that the law should change such that social media companies are seen as publishing companies rather than platforms for content. The difference is that if all you’re doing is providing a platform for people to air their views, you can claim that you can’t be held responsible for their behaviour. But if they are seen as publishers, then obviously they must be responsible for what appears under their auspices. A good topic for discussion in your lessons perhaps?
Here’s the link to the report if you’d like to read it yourself (pdf download): Intimidation in Public Life.
This article was originally published in my Digital Education newsletter just before Christmas 2017. Since then, a new law has come into effect in German requiring social media platforms to remove offensive content (including fake news I believe) within 24 hours. More details in this article: Delete Hate Speech or Pay Up, Germany Tells Social Media Companies. The law came into effect on 1st January 2018.