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You don’t have free rein to make a fool of yourself on the web

Guy with Megaphone

You don’t have free rein to make a fool of yourself on the web

Earlier this year, I wrote an article defending satire on social media, arguing that sites like Facebook are often a little too trigger happy in removing posts and ‘unpublishing’ pages. That’s not to say that there should be no boundaries you’re expected to adhere to when using social media and the wider internet, and today’s blog is aimed at those people who seem to think that not only can they say what they want, but that we should all have to listen to it as well.

Yesterday, the Daily Mail picked up on a story of a selection of very precious Donald Trump supporters in the US who were unhappy at some of their intolerable witterings being deemed to have fallen foul of Facebook’s guidelines. It’s ‘political correctness’, they say. It’s ‘censorship’. It’s everything but their own inability to put a sentence together without insulting somebody who isn’t quite the same then.

On reading the story, I’ll admit that it does appear that Facebook (as is often the case all across the political spectrum) may have been a bit pernickety in its removal of content, hence why it restored it with an apology, but this persecution complex some people seem to have when they get told that somebody doesn’t like what they say is very tedious. In democratic developed countries like the US and the UK, people are rightly allowed to hold extreme left-wing or right-wing views, but that doesn’t mean any of us have to like them, and you have to accept that mouthing such views may not go down well with the more moderate majority.

It’s not terribly surprising to see the Mail siding with supporters of Trump – an extremely wealthy, intellectually stunted man who manages to get millions of people to believe the reactionary ultraconservative dross he spouts on a daily basis – but the main point is that some people don’t seem to understand that the internet isn’t just a void for them to project their own warped and often offensive views without ever being brought to task over it. They forget that unless they create their own blog, they’re using platforms somebody else has provided as a vehicle for their views, and that the provider (in this case Facebook) is more than entitled to decide that it doesn’t want to be associated with it.

I had a similar experience last month when the Facebook group Wirral Newsbeat, which has over 50,000 followers, shared a story from local newspaper the Wirral Globe about Syrian families being rehoused on the peninsula. As the comments started to rack up underneath Wirral Newsbeat’s post, I was disheartened to see how many people from my home area immediately associated refugees with terrorism, theft, sex offences and anything else they could think of that demonises people who have fled their own home because of a level persecution nobody living on the Wirral could ever imagine.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for everybody to fawn over the refugees and there are valid concerns to be raised about the number of people living in this largely rural and suburban peninsula, its impact on the council’s already slashed 2016/17 budget, the Wirral’s strained housing situation and the huge gulf between its wealthier and more deprived area. Wirral Newsbeat had no problem with people eloquently expressing these views, but it did have a problem with some of the very unsavoury allegations and general name-calling bashed out by more than a few contributors and understandably removed it, before posting to explain these actions.

Of course, according to the perpetrators, this was ‘political correctness’, ‘bias’, ‘censorship, ‘no freedom of speech’ and so on. Really, it was none of these things – it was just that they were showing no common courtesy and weren’t observing the house rules. These people have got such a chip on their shoulder that they forget to show basic manners, and then wonder why nobody wants to hear what they’ve got to say.

If somebody posted material you didn’t like all over your Facebook page, you would remove it, wouldn’t you? That’s all Wirral Newsbeat did, but apparently some people think they should have a special right to have their ignorant scrawling up there for everybody to see, and that the owner of the page it appears on should just have to put up with it. Why?

Before posting on the internet, you should always consider whether you would be happy to have what you’re about to type repeated back to you in court. Everything you post on the internet is essentially a broadcast. Every post or tweet you make is like saying the words out loud on a crowded street within earshot of everybody. If some people did that with the views they share online, they would end up with a good clip round the ear, so perhaps they should actually be grateful that someone is instead removing their posts and sparing them the embarrassment of digging an even deeper hole for themselves.

John Murray

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