How much thought do you put into what you write on Facebook? Not much, I reckon. Most of us use social networking sites to communicate with friends, laugh at photos and sometimes promote events, but by and large they are used for mind-numbing nonsense and term time procrastination. We visit these types of internet sites to relax and socialise; after writing a 5,000 word essay the last thing you want to do is spend an hour intrinsically crafting a message to a friend just to say “hi”.
And why should we? Social networks are a great example of freedom of speech. Both Twitter and Facebook allow us to share and express opinions openly. In the past, if you wanted to promote an interesting article you’d have to print it out and distribute it by hand. Now, with one “like” all of your friends can debate over articles, events and music. But such ease of communication has brought up it’s own problem: Facebook flippancy.
Our “liking” generation has become so used to being able to express opinions we often forget to monitor our social interactions, leaving us making flippant and sometimes offensive remarks. Arguments are worsened on networking sites not only because of the risk of miscommunication but also because of our inflated sense of power; detached from the person at hand we can fire off all sorts of insults that would never usually make it out of our mouths.
Imagine if someone put a dictaphone next to your mouth every time you had a rant about someone or something. That’s basically what happens when we explode on social networking sites, every word you say is recorded and can be used against you.
It’s a bit odd, therefore, that we often prefer to overtly express ourselves through this medium even though the consequences could be much more damaging.
And what if the person ranting is in a position of authority or a level of responsibility? This is an issue our University should have come to terms with a long time ago. Even after the furore with the University rugby club blasting off racist remarks on twitter the union still resisted making any formal ruling on social networking principles. Since a YUSU Officer has had to resign over a private conversation on Facebook, it is about time YUSU made some decisions.
The disastrous consequences of what happened to Binitie – the Officer in question – would not have been half so dramatic if there had been clear regulations. Either Binitie would have been dismissed straight off, or he would have been protected from blackmail and public misrepresentation. Whatever the outcome, it would have been better than a YUSU scandal and concern over the behaviour of the local Labour Councillor.
Of course, it is very difficult to make any clear-cut ruling on social networking sites when they constantly balance the private-public line. Binitie’s conversation was private, but it didn’t take very long until it became public. Likewise, the public University rugby Twitter account was abused to express some very disturbing private views.
YUSU needs to make some decisions on how these accusations and problems are dealt with because as it stands they are potentially in a dangerous situation themselves. How many more private conversations are going to come crawling out of the woodwork? YUSU need to make a clear stance, not only to implement the correct discipline of comments, but also to protect themselves.
As much as it’s easy to lay back and continue to type away internet gibberish without a care in the world, this messy affair should be a lesson to us all. We are responsible for our words and actions, whether that is on a social networking site or on the University campus.
So, next time you lift your finger to type, remember that whatever you say next will be saved in the archives of internet history. Use your words wisely.