Erikka Askeland: Oh, what a tangled web we weave...
WE ARE still getting used to the internet, a sprawling, many-tentacled sort of media whose reflection of the humanity that created it can only be described as warts and all.
Being an open forum, anyone can use it to say anything, at anytime. And what they write can be read by just dozens to hundreds of millions of people.
For businesses, social media has been a mixed blessing. Many “brands” have Facebook pages. However, the temptation for most people when faced with a suggestion that they might “like” a certain brand of nappies is, if not to ignore it, then to revolt. But while rude messages on corporate Facebook pages and Twitter feeds have become a problem, some companies are getting the hang of it by turning it back on their critics.
Bodyform, which makes sanitary towels, retaliated to an online pundit by posting a video in which the chief executive – played by an actress – tells off the man who posted a tongue-in-cheek commentary on its Facebook page. He wondered why women, when they have their periods, don’t seem to go bike riding and skydiving like they do on the adverts. Rather, he described how his girlfriend changes into “the little girl from the exorcist” when she has her “monthlies”.
In the video, the chief executive admits “we lied”, and explains to poor “Richard” that there is “no such thing as a happy period”. Then, in a delicious outrage, she sips from a glass of blue liquid – the sort used in conventional, squeamish maxi-pad advertising to show the product’s absorbency without reminding anyone of menstrual blood.
Such humour and lightheartedness was so refreshing it “went viral” and the video has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people – a success for adland. Even if there is a lingering suspicion that “Richard” is all part of the marketing ploy – for one, his post is almost too well written – more like that of a keen young graduate advertising exec than a typical online prankster.
But two other stories this week showed social media at its most sordid and dangerous – and how users are starting to get their own back. The underbelly of the internet is rife with bullies, creeps, unhinged football fans, extreme pro and anti-Scottish Nationalists, and pornography. And because it is still evolving so rapidly, the internet has often proved too slippery for PC Plod to nick and too nuanced for doddery judges to grasp.
For anyone who even attempts to put a stop to the worst abuses – there are those who set up Facebook pages to mock dead teenagers, for instance – it can make you feel as if you are King Canute trying to turn back a tide of filth.
But this week, the tide seems to have turned in favour of those who are, for better or for worse, taking it into their own hands. This week, a man named Michael Brutsch from Texas lost his job when another web journalist unveiled him as a “troll”. Known as “Violentacrez”, Brutsch was revealed as the most active purveyor of porn and other unsavoury subjects on a news compiler site called Reddit. He spent most of his evenings posting pictures of young women – called “creepshots” because the subjects are unaware their bust or buttocks are being snapped and published by some random ogler with a smart phone.
Most “netizens” applauded the result of Violentacrez being unmasked because while the internet is all about “freedom of speech”, it does not necessarily follow that there should be freedom from the repercussions of one’s actions.
But then there is the case of Amanda Todd, a troubled 15-year-old from Vancouver, Canada, who committed suicide after a sustained campaign by an internet bully.
Last week, the man believed to have plagued her for years – posting revealing pictures she had, as an indiscreet 12-year-old, seen fit to pose for in front of a webcam – was unveiled by an anonymous hacker. Public feeling about Todd was running so high, there were immediate calls for the alleged abuser – whose name, address and place of work were given – to be set upon by vigilantes.
But police have since said that many of the details given about the alleged abuser were wrong and it is uncertain who hounded Todd to her death. Investigations continue.
The internet is fighting back, but it will be better when we can be sure what we are fighting back at.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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