Moderation in all things… January 3, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
There’s an interesting piece by TJ McIntyre of the UCD School of Law, and chair of Digital Rights Ireland, which on foot of the very sad death of Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee engages with the issue of social media. I’ll be discussing this in much greater detail at some other point, but it’s worth noting that he considers instances where ‘real name’ laws have been introduced, such as South Korea in 2007, a move of such utter uselessness that it was overturned by the Constitutional Court and is now abandoned. He makes another crucial point, though:
It also doesn’t help that Irish politicians have yet to come to terms with how social media amplifies public opinion, debate and interaction, so that they can sometimes experience the active citizenry which it enables as a relentless flow of criticism.
These, however, are overwhelmingly issues of manners and social norms -– not matters for legislation. The few cases which are genuinely defamatory or criminal can be referred to the legal process, but the remainder are best dealt with by continued conversation, education and self-moderation by online communities.
Those of us who have watched the use and abuse of social media by politicians and political parties over the past decade will find it perhaps just a little difficult to accept the sudden ordure poured upon that quarter. For a start few politicians have been shy about acquiring Facebook and Twitter accounts. Some, ironically or not the names that spring to mind are members of government parties, made quite a career during the last few years of releasing every last thought they had on the policies of the previous administration and they didn’t hold back. The fairly absurd enthusiasm, and over enthusiasm, of politicians in the last six or so years for social media, was almost inevitably going to result in a back lash of some degree once things turned nasty. And nasty they turned, or perhaps more accurately always were.
Is twitter a bear pit? It certainly is. Facebook? Perhaps not quite to the same extent. Blogs? Probably a little less again. Is there anything that can be done about this? Probably not. Short of light-touch but rigorous moderation, as on this site, a varied range of opinions will be expressed (look at the Guardian website for evidence of same, though it has to be said the Irish Times comments are no advertisement for the level of debate on this island, though some would say that is precisely how it should be). But to read reports one would think this was something entirely new – a factor which was previously unknown or unheard of.
I find that odd, very odd indeed. Every day TDs and other elected representatives interact on telephones and in doing so receive calls from callers ranging the spectrum from cordial to wildly belligerent. This I know from direct experience of looking after a TD’s phone calls for a prolonged period some years back.
The idea that social media are somehow in and of themselves more appalling or hurtful than some of the calls I (and many others) fielded seems very very difficult to accept – and whether they are more immediate is open to question. Moreover the obvious step, and one which is taken by many TDs and reps (and in a sense is taken here), is to have others filter them. Why get involved directly unless it is absolutely necessary to? And similarly on this site when the noise to signal ration is too great we pull the plug.
Eamon Ryan, oddly enough, made a couple of good points, not least being that it was far far too early to take any political or legislative actions in the context of the death of McEntee, but also that “There are huge issues around the ethics of communicating online that we cannot easily change by legislation”. Obvious, sure. But true.