Responsible Freedom: From Soup to Nuts of Social Media

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” Bob Dylan

Not FB's faultWith more than one billion users globally, it is difficult for Facebook, Inc to vet and approve every piece of information posted on that social network. This responsibility should largely lie with the users. To blame social networking services for every of our failures would be like blaming a mechanically sound vehicle for the flaws or recklessness of its driver.

...responsible usage

Whichever our preferred social networking platform, it must be highlighted that immeasurable good have been dished through them - missing children have been found, potential suicide cases have been stopped, and some dictators have even been dethroned. On 18 April 2012, an Australian media lawyer and a friend of uSpiked nearly missed her flight to Sydney after Virgin Atlantic check-in staff discovered that she was on an “inhibited list” (not ‘no-fly list’) requiring clearance from Australia House. A tweet reporting her predicament not only saved her day, but exposed the existence of the list, and she subsequently boarded her flight. Such are the powers and usefulness of social media. The only thing that is required of us, as users, is responsible usage... is that too much to ask!

In mid January this year, a freelance journalist (whom we shall call Jeremy), published information reproduced in the accompanying story. For those who read the piece, including our journalists who ultimately investigated the matter, it must have elicited some sense of loss, rage and societal hopelessness. I personally was left enraged... “Two well-known bergies (homeless people) in Sea Point were recently (over the last few days) attacked by men who jumped out of mini-bus taxis and beat them to pulp, on separate occasions...” (sic), Jeremy wrote.

To blame social networking services for every of our failures would be like blaming a mechanically sound vehicle for the flaws or recklessness of its driver

According to the post the perpetrators were some unidentified men (people), but one doesn’t need to be a top sociologist to deduce the social or racial background they could have belonged. Most residents of Cape Town’s Sea Point and Green Point areas who may have read the post must have reassessed their respective personal security. Disembarking from mini-bus taxis while carrying any wooden items closely resembling hockey sticks would most likely have had some catastrophic ending to some unknowing travellers.

As a matter of urgency, we decided to dig deeper. Could the numerous CCTV cameras installed in the area, have captured the two mentioned attacks? Dropping everything else on our plates, we dove into the investigation aiming to track down these ‘mini-bus taxi gangs’ that were seemingly targeting ‘brave and hard-working homeless white men of Sea Point’.

Our preliminary investigation revealed more holes in the whole sorry post by Jeremy - the chips just failed to hold. While we had hoped to amplify the voices of the two ‘dead’ victims, we were now confronted with the possibility that the story was made-up. When we contacted the freelance journalist to get more details, we realised that he lacked credible sources and had relied heavily on gossip. Jeremy’s claimed certainty of various issues confirmed our doubt... “Whitey, who also sold fruits outside Adelphi Centre, is in a coma. He will not make it, that I know.”He concluded: “Tonight they will switch the machines off, of that I am certain.”

The facebooker transgressed slightly to talk of a certain cat, “...Furthermore, the cat of a friend in Sea Point was shot a few days ago, his cat now has to be put down.” Cats are said to have nine lives, but what are the chances of one surviving a gunshot? Of course miracles do happen and the cat could have survived the shooting, but regardless, we got more concerned.

The decision to publish our finding is to hopefully reverse the damage that the post could have caused and also to quell any animosity amongst the residents of area.

While we celebrate the rights accorded to us both by the UDHR and the South African Constitution, showing some responsibility would go a long way in restoring the public’s trust in our profession. 

We are not being captious, but the flaws we have found in the post are not too minor to be ignored. The reality is that there are countless such posts on various social media networking platforms. Such recklessness is an affront to the freedom of expression that we greatly cherish. States or political forces calling for the punishment of online social media service providers such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ should instead focus on educating users and mainly, start behaving decently.

Having mourned the ugliness of some social media users we must categorically state that regardless of our findings, which we have published here, nobody should be assaulted in the manner that Whitey (as he is known around Sea Point area) was. The detectives at Sea Point Police Station who quickly solved the crime must be commended for their quick action. The cops have played their part, now it is up to the prosecutors and the courts to ensure that the two, if indeed guilty, pay for their crimes. My fellow members of the public, it was time we become our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Let us all act responsibly, both in our communities and on social media platforms.

Journalists and freedom of expression advocates across the world spend time and resources fighting for the right and freedom to disseminate information. But the reality is that some in our profession are stifling the progress we have gained over the years. While we should respect the rights enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it would be pretentious to disregard all the other Articles in the Declaration and just single out Article 19, which directly gives us power and protection as journalists. The report accompanying this editorial contains fundamental abuse of that same Article 19 that empowers us, and should serves as reminder the differences between dissemination of facts, opinion and thoughts… – The Editor