Social media’s sinister side should give us all pause to think about how we treat each other

THERE is no doubt social media has changed the way we communicate, share and consume our information.

Our children are glued to it.

Rather than ringing a friend to see how they are, we might be inclined to click a like button on Facebook.

News headlines are read on a smartphone …

The list of changes would well exceed the word limit in this editorial.

Like any revolution — and social media is just that — it has its good and bad points, and we still are only really scratching the surface of its long-term impact.

Information is now being shared as freely as at any time in our history.

People have unprecedented and direct access. Information exchanges are now unquestionably global.

All of us can reach more people than we have ever before.

But with that we have seen the rise of so-called fake news, a disruption of trusted media sources, and the explosion of echo chambers, where like-minded people reinforce their preconceived views with each other and denounce anyone with whom they disagree.

On a more sinister note, we have also seen the worst side of human behaviour. Personal abuse rarely if ever was seen at these levels in the past. Vicious human interaction that would rarely happen face-to-face.

Social media appears to give people a licence to be downright nasty. And today we look at what it means for people entering and continuing politics.

Politicians are easy targets but it has always taken a certain type of person to be prepared to put themselves in the front line for that level of scrutiny (especially when many could earn far more in the private sector). Social media has increased that pressure tenfold.

Greens leader Cassy O’Connor puts it bluntly when she says: “I’ve been called a stupid slut on social media, a mad Green bitch.”

Lord Mayor and potential Liberal candidate Sue Hickey fell victim to an anonymous “fake news” Facebook site, calling in police to deal with it.

Health Minister Michael Ferguson has experienced “a person was actually going through holiday photos and making negative comments about a member of my family”.

Tasmania’s politicians are largely embracing Facebook as a way of engaging one-on-one with voters.

So the argument would go that if you want to embrace the technology, arguably attempting to bypass the scrutiny of the “fourth estate” of established media outlets in the process, you should be prepared to cop what you get.

But no one deserves the increasing levels of abuse and trolling we see these days on social media.

And it says something about human nature that it provides a vehicle to unleash a primitive nastiness not generally seen elsewhere.

It gives us all pause to think about how we treat each other and, if we really want our best people to represent us, in this day and age, why would they really bother?

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