Has social media become the new Neighborhood Watch or is it just a lynch mob of supposedly well-meaning Netizens trying to grab a little fame for their do-good ways? Maybe we should look at some of the lives that have been ruined before making that decision?
On May 4, a man in Australia found his picture being tweeted and shared across the Internet with the label of creep. A concerned mother thought he took a picture of her kids and jumped to the conclusion he must be a pervert. Let’s face it, child sexual abuse is a serious concern. If you see something suspicious you should do something about it.
So, what should you do? Well, speaking to the man to get a better sense of what’s going on is one option. Another, if one doesn’t feel safe doing that, is to go to the authorities and let them handle it. They’re trained in dealing with situations such as this, after all. What shouldn’t you do? Stalk the guy, take his picture, and then spread it around social media.
As it turned out, the man was a father of three who decided to take a selfie in front of a Star Wars sign to impress his kids. A real threat to society, right? This woman’s children were nearby and heard him ask if he could just step in and take a picture for his kids. When his phone started ringing off the hook the next day he had to go to the police and clear things up. Apparently, people saw his picture getting tweeted and shared it over a thousand times!
Needless to say, the original post was taken down and the woman is dreadfully sorry. A quick message on social media and a man (and his family) were forced to go through an ordeal no one should have to suffer through. Oops, sorry!
Did I mention he received death threats? I should also mention that after the truth came out, so did she. (sigh – something about 2 wrongs not making a right)
And this isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve written about the girl who tweeted a joke to her friends prior to boarding a plane to South Africa and landed to a firestorm of outrage and even a stalker at the airport who just needed to take her picture to share online. Remember the false accusations flying after the Boston Marathon Bombing and the pain an Indian-American family went through?
They are well-meaning people who have not considered the moral weight of what they’re doing. – Alexis C Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic
We all love when cute cat videos go viral. Heck, any positive message can go viral and lift the spirits of thousands of people. But we’re just as likely to make negative events go viral, usually involving an individual – a person we know so little about it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this particular event is a defining characteristic. I’ve said it a thousand times before and I’ll say it again – we need to start treating strangers as human beings. People who are just trying to find their way in life, have flaws, make mistakes, but still want to love and be loved. You know, treat them the way we want to be treated and all that.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Harm caused by good intent is still harm.” quote=”Harm caused by good intent is still harm.”]
There are lots of ways to help stamp out the bad in this world. If you see some kids who may be threatened, by all means contact the authorities and step in yourself if it’s safe for all involved to do so. If you’re worried about paedophiles, go get trained on how to recognize the signs of abuse AND HOW TO REPORT IT! You can contact Darkness to Light for that kind of training if you’re here in the US.
We’re warned not to attempt CPR on someone if we haven’t been trained, since we can do more harm than good. This is the same. If you haven’t been trained on how to handle these situations, contact someone who has been trained. Don’t try to be the hero. Don’t try to pump yourself up as the do-gooder responsible for taking care of us.
There’s a reason we have a legal system that considers us innocent until proven guilty – the damage that can be caused to an innocent man can be irreparable. In a society that recognizes the fundamental right (not privilege) to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it’s necessary to take the risk that a guilty man could go free rather than an innocent man be convicted. This clearly does not play out in the court of public opinion. We’re quick to crucify our politicians, our celebrities, and pretty much anyone we don’t know as an individual.
I submit that this isn’t healthy for a society nor for us as individuals. It isn’t justice, it’s vigilantism. It increases negativity and prevents us from working toward solutions to our society’s ills. It divides us into us and them.
The next time a negative post or tweet comes your way – something meant to damage a person’s reputation – just say no. 140 characters can’t tell you that person’s life story, but it can ruin it pretty quickly.
Steve is the founder of Straight Talk Entertainment and currently produces and writes for the audio drama Aural Traditions, recently voted Charleston City Paper’s Best Local Podcast. He’s also an Information Security professional and avid shark tooth hunter.