Thinking before tweeting makes for nicer world

By Kevin Ritchie Time of article published Sep 15, 2018

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When it gets it right, social media is incredible. There’s a reason traditional media is under such threat from what used to be upstarts. 

Twitter and Facebook in particular have made us all citizen journalists, able to post news in real time. They have also allowed all of us to become columnists, sharing our opinions with whoever cares to friend or follow.

Sometimes, social media hits it out of the park. Last weekend was a great example. By the time Serena Williams had dried her tears of rage, the twitterati weren’t just showing up umpire Carlos Ramos - they were ripping open the hypocrisy and double standards in tennis where male tennis stars have got away with far worse, with the video clips (complete with audio) to prove it.

The downside is the trolls - those horrid creatures that once lurked under bridges in fables scaring little children but now live in the fetid sludge of the digital underworld, brutally bullying big people. 

Sometimes they are even recruited to wage cyberwar by unscrupulous PR agencies such as Bell Pottinger, spreading rumours and lies to silence critics by shaming them through insinuation.

Often, though, the worst offenders are ordinary South Africans living their worst lives. It’s astonishing how many of us seem to believe there’s actually a physical disconnect between our virtual persona and our real personality, such as Penny Sparrow, Velaphi Khumalo and Justine Sacco posting their musings to their inner circle, only to be horrified when sizeable chunks of the rest of the country turn on them.

The self-destruct button is not limited to the foot of the rainbow, it happens in corporates too. If you don’t like your boss, tell it to his or her face - or shut up.

Dissing them on social media has the same consequences as saying it to their faces.

We don’t get it though. The allure of social media’s immediacy should be offset by the perilous lure of one-fingered access. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

It’s only a matter of time before we get to widespread defamation cases against social media users - the dam wall has been breached with the convictions of the digital racists.

There’s other content though that’s just as harmful. Content that might not be racist or defamatory, but still shouldn’t be posted. Such as the video last week of the firefighter falling to his death from the 23rd storey of the Bank of Lisbon building in Joburg CBD.

Maybe the FOMO (fear of missing out) was too overwhelming not to resist.

Whatever the reason, that video went viral. Why? We are a country that venerates the dead, yet this video will live on long beyond, belying that. That person’s family, their children, will have to see it.

It’s easy to rail against the person who took the video, but what of the countless others who retweeted it? What public service was served other than rank voyeurism?

The world could be a much nicer place sometimes if we just think before we tweet.

*Ritchie is a media consultant. He is a former journalist and newspaper editor.

The Saturday Star

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