Can facebook and twitter save us from ourselves? - 8848

Can facebook and twitter save us from ourselves?

At Connect PR we know that social media is an essential part of any business or individual’s bid to boost their online profile.   However it is not without its pitfalls and a poorly worded tweet or Facebook post can land you in a world of trouble and be potentially damaging.

Most of the time a clumsily written sentence won’t see you put in handcuffs but with the availability to give an immediate reaction at the press of a button and publish it to the world,  it can be a recipe for disaster.  

For a while I have believed that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al should have a ‘stop, think and post’ function for messages containing offensive language – more on that later.  

Gone are the days when people have to physically pick up a pen to give their thoughts. Now you can cause a ‘Twitter Storm’ while queuing for your morning coffee or sitting on your nan’s sofa.   The informal way we publish online has lent itself to a culture of ‘tweet now, think later’ and on an almost daily basis someone, somewhere, with some sort of profile, gets themselves in trouble online.  

Last week we saw England cricketer Stuart Broad have to make a public apology after his tweet regarding the minimum wage.   He posted to Twitter: “I’ve heard if you earn minimum wage in England you’re in the top 10% earners in the world. #stay #humble.”   No, it didn’t contain offensive language but it was enough to attract angry replies from the 28-year-old’s followers who felt he was dismissive to those faced with earning the minimum wage. He later deleted the tweet.  

Then we had Kim Sears, the partner of tennis ace Andy Murray, becoming the target of online trolls after she was captured on television swearing about Tomas Berdych.   I’m still perplexed as to why it attracted so much media coverage; however even more perplexing was why Miss Sears attracted more hate via Twitter.   Some even messaged they hoped she would die while others wished physical harm on her.   But could the people in charge of social media save internet trolls from themselves?  

Last year police forces in the UK said they were ‘overwhelmed’ with reports of crimes via social media. According to the Daily Telegraph 20 cases of online abuse were reported to the authorities each day.   There is a strong case that the simplicity to post something offensive for the public to see, often without much thought, contributes to this ongoing problem.  

Would those attacking Kim Sears online have said that to her face? Almost certainly not but let’s look at a for instance.   A much despised figure on Twitter posts something you don’t agree with. Your instant reaction is to respond and let them know what you think of their post and them – all within 140 characters.   You, a perfectly rational person in the normal world, add a few expletives to the response and within seconds you’ve abused someone online.   It is reported, you apologise, but it is too late. The message has been captured on dozens of people’s phones and shared around Twitter. A moment of madness could now put you on the end of Twitter abuse and the cycle begins again.   Farfetched?

Just last weekend I gave a ticking off to a fellow Wolves fan who felt it perfectly fine to abuse former player Joleon Lescott who now plays for rival club West Bromwich Albion.   His tweets (which I won’t repeat) drew reaction from Lescott as well as fans from both Wolves and Albion disgusted by the message. In true form, he was apologetic but the damage was done. While my words were advisory to tell him to think about what he tweets, others were a lot more blunt with their thoughts. He was now the ‘victim’.  It happens more frequently than is realised.

My proposal is that Twitter and Facebook have a database of offensive words that should a user publish one or more of them it is flagged-up.   On screen would appear an online pop-up asking the user  ‘are you sure?’ before a post is sent.  

Should they persist to send the offensive message they are asked again ‘are you aware your message may cause offence?’ and if after climbing two hurdles they persist and the message is sent then it is a much more conscious effort.  

This delay tactic may aid people to think before they tweet, it may also filter out those who message in a fit of rage only to be contrite minutes later when their anger has descended. Anyone who has published a messaged deemed offensive by the social media bods would automatically have to go through this clearance.  

The police may have much more of a case in their favour. Rather than an online troll showing remorse and using the excuse ‘I just wasn’t thinking’ answering two questions before sending an offensive post suggests otherwise.  

It’s not fool-proof by any stretch of the imagination but it is a simple system (used on internet message boards for the best part of decade) that the multi-million pound organisations like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can easily incorporate into their platforms.  

And I’m no Mark Zuckerberg.

Author: Adam Thompson, account executive at Connect PR