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Hiding behind the screen

Our world is remarkably different now than it was approximately 34 years ago, when the internet was invented. This doesn’t seem like a long time; however, the change it has brought cannot be overstated. Social media has since become one of the primary ways in which we communicate with one another. Nonetheless, I’m sure most would agree that it is not the same as speaking to someone face to face. The personas we project online are usually far from an accurate representation of our actual lives, something any honest instagram model or blogger will tell you. Therefore, how are we to regard or define our online presence? Can we hold someone accountable for something they say online? The internet immortalises every selfie, every post and every dumb thing you said when you were 15. The power it wields is sometimes forgotten; however, in light of recent scandals both at Warwick and in the wider media following Jack Maynard’s exit from I’m a Celebrity, it is worth discussing.

A student in our campus was the administrator of a Facebook page… featuring jokes about the Holocaust alongside Nazi imagery

It was recently revealed that a student in our beloved campus was the administrator of a Facebook page which was guilty of inciting racial hatred through its posts. This page featured jokes about the Holocaust alongside Nazi imagery as well as highly misogynistic posts. This has understandably sparked outrage amongst students, not only at Warwick but in other universities. That kind of hateful rhetoric would not be tolerated in person or if it were said against another student, therefore the question is whether the fact that it was done online should make any difference. The Facebook guidelines and terms of use suggest that it shouldn’t, stating that “Facebook removes hate speech” on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation as well as various other groups. It goes on to state that “Organisations and people dedicated to promoting hatred against these protected groups are not allowed a presence on Facebook.” There have even been a series of arrests following this kind of content being posted on Facebook as section 127 of the Communities Act states that a person is guilty if he “sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”. This leaves room for discretion but it is always an ambiguous boundary, thus caution and revision are needed before posting something online.

A more difficult question is how to respond when something we wrote as teenagers or children surfaces in our adult lives

Is the problem that we are hasty when posting things online or are we more genuine and sincere behind our screens, devoid of any social pressure? This is an interesting thought as it may be easier for our true selves to come out when we have no social pressure or filters to dilute our views or make them more acceptable. However, the photos and blogs/vlogs, whether fitness based or personal, seem to create a more idealistic and less genuine version of ourselves. Spending hours deciding whether to use Valencia or Mayfair for your next insta post and then hashtagging it ‘I woke up like this’ is hardly as candid as you may think. However, some people hide behind the anonymity of the Internet at times, using groups and platforms with strangers to voice their darker sides. In situations like this the disturbing reality is that perhaps those forums are the outlet for extreme views which would not be tolerated in society and this is what has prompted action from Facebook and even the law in some cases.

A more difficult question is how to respond when something we wrote as teenagers or children surfaces in our adult lives. Jack Maynard’s exit from the jungle in November due to old posts resurfacing from his youth have raised this question. The 23-year-old faced allegations that he was guilty of posting racist, sexist and homophobic material on Twitter, despite the fact that the majority of the tweets were posted between 2011 and 2013 and have since been removed. Maynard responded, stating: “I was young, naive and stupid – but as I said previously, age is no excuse. My immaturity meant that I didn’t stop for a second to think whether these comments would hurt or harm anyone”. Many of us may feel like we can relate to this sentiment, though perhaps not in the same context. We have all developed from our teenage selves and that we would not be posting the kind of material as we had previously. If you’re hesitant, a quick timeline review of your first few Facebook posts should hopefully make this clear.

One comprises old teenage tweets… while the other centres around a university student who is in his final year, and actively promoting hate and intolerance

When looking at the two situations, it is important to acknowledge the differences between them and the nuances in what can be deemed ‘hate speech’ online. This is particularly vital considering recent revelations that Facebook was banning women’s responses to misogynistic abuse online. In one example, a comment reading ‘men are scum’, in response to a photo collage posted by a comedian of the rape and death threats she’d received, led to a 30-day ban.

In the two cases described in this article, the dissimilarities are clear. One comprises old teenage tweets on a personal page, while the other centres around a university student who is in his final year and is actively promoting a dialogue of hate and intolerance, on a larger platform. Both behaviours warrant condemnation. However, in one the person has developed and his childhood indiscretion has been immortalised, while in the other the posts are representative, at least ostensibly, of the individual’s current viewpoints. This is a cause for concern and perhaps a situation in which some intervention is necessary, to ensure the internet remains a safe platform for all.

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