by Scott Podmore
9th May 2016
Facebook is fabulous but it’s flawed. That’s the general consensus. One thing is certain, it touches the lives of most of the Warrandyte community for better or worse. In a special series, this is the first part of a conversation ‘we needed to have’ as editor Scott Podmore gets the ball rolling. We invite readers to write in with your views in a bid to make our own social media community a happier and less damaging space.
SOCIAL media (noun): websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking. That’s a simple definition with a complicated reality. One I can’t fit onto this single page when it comes to how awed it can be and the distress it can cause.
Social media can be fantastic. We can stay connected with old friends, romances are sparked for the lonely, humane causes can achieve peaceful or inspiring outcomes. We can express ourselves. A great example of the positive power of social media is when Facebook and Twitter became invaluable tools for millions of people caught up in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake five years ago and lives were saved. We’ve even had our own terrific examples of community pages helping those in need, tracking down a lost pet, as a communication tool when bush res strike, or to even have a laugh at a family of alpacas trying to catch a bus!
But the sad truth? An evil lurks within, and don’t we know it.
We’ve all had moments on Face- book when emotions get the better of us. Over the coming months I’ll speak to experts (real ones) in social media about shining a light on the darkness. It’s designed to catch your attention in the hope we can all find a way to achieve a goal together: and that is to be a little kinder on Face- book. It’s about creating an awareness around a very important topic that’s affecting us in different ways.
We need to start in our own back- yard here in Warrandyte in taking responsibility for our children, families, neighbours, schools and businesses with regards to what we post. There must be an ethical teaching behind it all, so let’s tap into some
substance when it comes to being responsible for our comments and behaviour and what we’re teaching our kids in what’s appropriate and what isn’t.
Most of you reading this right now know exactly what’s triggered this. It’s the elephant in the cyber room, or rather, elephants. We’ve seen it on our own community social pages, including the Diary’s. Without digging up too much detail, one example is the disgraceful personal attacks on conscientious people trying to create a constructive page to “ x the bottleneck” at the Warrandyte Bridge. Yes, the line was blurred in a few certain areas on freedom of speech or what some may call healthy cyber debate, but the bare facts of disgusting, threatening behaviour are there for everyone to digest and feel sick about; if you have a conscience, that is. It wasn’t designed to be the mouthpiece of the community or offend anyone, but rather a platform to have a discussion with the aim of achieving a positive result for one and all.
There are plenty of others that most of us know of. Local food outlets have been tainted by immature or irresponsible comments (just ask Grand Hotel Warrandyte manager Peter Appleby how funny the breadgate issue was and you’ll be met with a furrowed brow), and another young girl (who won’t be named) was so traumatised by attacks on a community page she became so depressed she refuses to be seen in public. At 14, she’s undergoing counselling and she’s not in a good way. Read that again. She is 14 years old. It’s not about whether she should be able to handle the comments, either, it’s all about how it makes her feel and the fact is she’s not in a very unhealthy and sad mental and emotional state.
This isn’t about who’s right or wrong and social media will never be a perfect science. But it’s about creating a positive ripple effect in moving towards a healthier state of social media behaviour in our own community.
Facebook, in particular, has clearly become a breeding ground for hatred, where emotions can explode and serious flaws in human behaviour unravel. It’s become a platform that can cause incomprehensible emotional anguish and distress. Comments in the heat of the moment so hurtful friendships are ruined forever. Businesses damaged because of one little bad moment. Marriages breakdown. Even worse … paedophiles using it as a tool to groom. A child even lmed the act of committing suicide and posted it on social media to send a message to those who mentally tortured him. It doesn’t get any more serious than that, just in case you thought for a second this may be an insigni cant topic. What if that happened to your friend? Or your child?
Every action of yours contributes, for better or worse.
Social media is in its infancy, constantly evolving and while there are some incredibly clever, effective and socially responsible workshops, causes, books and policies being borne, ultimately we’re the ones who need to take responsibility and tone it down. So take a deep breath, Warrandyte. Cyber-bullying and a downright nasty spate of personal attacks are happening right here in our own backyard. It’s up to us to fix it and that starts by thinking before you post and simply showing a little bit of respect for our fellow man.
Let’s share some thoughts from our community page or group leaders who have seen it all so far.
Bambi Gordon, of the Warrandyte Business and Community Group, says “people should behave on Facebook as they would if they were in a ‘real world’ situation”.
“You wouldn’t, in a real life situation, listen into a conversation and when you hear something that you don’t agree with just jump in and tell the person ‘You’re an idiot’ – and yet it happens on Facebook. Social Media is a tool for people to communicate – and that needs to be done with respect. We won’t all agree with each other. Just look at some of the infrastructure and development issues around the greater Warrandyte community and the wide variety of passionately held views for and against.”
Warrandyte Second Hand Page creator Debi Slinger says there’s a serious responsibility that comes with running a social media page or group.
“With close to 4000 members and running for three years, the WSHP has never tolerated rude, disrespectful or bullying behavior,” she says. “We regard our members as part of our community, our family. When you buy and sell, you have to remember that you’ll probably see these people at the IGA, your son’s footy match, your daughter’s netball game or at a local social function.
Yet Debi admits the page has encountered the “ugliness”.
“Worst examples include people telling us to f— off because we don’t know what we’re doing, saying ‘I know where you live!’ to which I replied, ‘That’s great, come over and we can have a cuppa together’. I try to diffuse things with sarcasm, humour or use my law background to legal speak them into understanding what they’ve done.
“Being nice to someone should be the default position for people – if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online. Freedom of speech is one thing – online trolling is another.”
The ripple effect of Facebook negativity can quickly take hold of a person’s frame of mind, even when they are perfectly jovial without a harmful bone in their body like my friend Josh Langley, author of Turning Inside Out. He told me how he chose to go 30 days without Facebook because of how much it was affecting him.
“It was another stupid post on Facebook that tipped me over the edge,” he says. “I can’t actually remember exactly what it was, it could have been another ignorant racist ‘F- — off we’re full’ kind of comment from one of my FB Friends or it could have been some joke that had been doing the rounds for the past two years and someone had only just discovered and thought it was really funny or it could have been one of those thoroughly annoying bait click articles designed to get millions of likes with headlines such as ‘watch this baby do something incredible with a hammer drill, brought tears to my eyes, best thing you’ll see all year!’
“I could literally feel the anger and annoyance rising up from my feet and my whole body started to tremble with fury,” Josh points out.
“I had a love-hate relationship with social media and Facebook, especially. It pushed all my buttons and I would find myself getting angry at the stupidest things and I’d have to pull myself back from the brink of pounding the computer to death and say ‘hold on, this isn’t real’ and sit back and take a chill pill.
“While I never attacked anyone or posted nasty comments, my mind was full of not so nice thoughts about how stupid most of the content was and that people didn’t have a life. I soon realised I was the one who didn’t have a life and I needed to do something about it otherwise I was going to be bitter and twisted just because of another cat meme.”
Social media is here to stay, but in its current state is not healthy. We need to clean it up and that starts with each individual being mindful of their own social media etiquette. It’s time to lead the way.
I welcome letters to the editor for a mature discussion about how we can make it better. It’s time to throw the negative crap in the toilet and ush it and focus on positive, constructive ways we can all alter our behaviour and set some smart, effective policies in place. While I haven’t been able to include all the feedback I’ve already received, I appreciate it and thank those wholeheartedly for their contributions via email and Facebook so far.
We talk to Kirra Pendergast of Safe On Social, a team of collaborating consultants with specific industry expertise and a focus on Social Media Security, Privacy and Risk Management solutions and training services.