Good social media responsibility starts with you

  • Social media websites are designed to ease sharing of content, not block them
  • Perhaps we need to understand that the Internet is our collective responsibility

 

Good social media responsibility starts with you

 

OPINION: Last week, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) told Malaysians to be sensible. Specifically, they issued a statement imploring users to not share footage taken by the gunman whose actions in New Zealand last week resulted in 50 senseless deaths. The reasons given for this was "to avoid unwanted incidents that could invite an environment of panic and anger in society" (translated from Bahasa Malaysia).

In contrast, Twitter spread the photo of one man in Manchester, England who stood outside a local mosque with a sign that said, “I will keep watch while you pray”.

To paraphrase, “social media doesn’t kill people, people kill people”. But it sure makes it easy for the bad guys to put paid to this notion.

The MCMC  was quite right to send out that statement. In a sense, the Ministry was just taking the lead set by New Zealand, whose Office of Film and Literature Classification categorised the video as "objectionable", making it a criminal offence to distribute, copy or exhibit the video within New Zealand.

Doing so may result in 14 years imprisonment (for individuals) or NZ$100,000 in fines (for corporations). Already, one person has been charged with distributing the video.

Malaysia does have a similar provision in the law, specifically section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act, which states that anybody who sends content that is "obscene (or) indecent" commits an offence, punishable by fine up to fifty thousand ringgit or imprisonment up to a year.

It's interesting to note that the MCMC referred to section 233 at the end of their statement almost as an afterthought; their priority was to appeal to the decency of Internet users - which may strike you as a fool's errand.

When the Internet democratised knowledge and sharing of information, it was hoped that it would herald a new era for human civilisation. Instead, it feels like for every benefactor brought forth, there are a hundred ready to flock to the lowest common denominator.

"Are we building the world we all want?" was the question asked by Mark Zuckerberg in his open letter to Facebook users in 2017 where he tackled the issue of the good and bad of sharing on social media.

In 2019, the question is still relevant, given that despite Facebook blocking 80% of the video’s copies on its website, an estimated 300,000 instances still were missed.

In an excellent article by the Washington Post, the case is made that social media websites are designed to ease sharing of content, not block them. This compounds the issue that so far, users tend to share the vicarious over the valuable, the sensational over the sensible.

So I don't think you can blame calls for greater regulation of disturbing content on the Internet.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pointed to social media websites, saying "they are the publisher, not just the postman", indirectly dismissing the notion of "safe harbours" when hosts don't need to be responsible for the content they host for their users.

Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia meanwhile wrote "It is unacceptable to treat the Internet as an ungoverned space" in a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and requested that the topic be suggested at the next G20 meeting.

It's the beginnings of censoring the Internet. And the reason why I believe this is a bad idea is that it impacts the greatest strength of the Internet - that it democratises the dissemination of ideas.

Perhaps we need to understand that the Internet is our collective responsibility. Decisions are made by those that turn up and engage with others. But how many of us have the courage to step up online, and say "this is bad, we shouldn't do this"? How many are willing to stand up and guard those whose beliefs are different from them, and yet between whom respect is mutually given?

If we wait until a central authority tells us what is good or bad on the Internet, and how we should treat our fellow man, then perhaps we deserve to be second-rate citizens.

 
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