Charlie Osbourne, medical anthropologist, graphic designer, and contributing writer for ZDNet, published an extremely interesting article entitled The World of Social Media Arrests and Prosecutions. Osbourne begins her article by asking readers to consider “What happens when a tweet or Facebook page becomes of interest to the law?”
Per Osbourne, “Governments across the world are now keeping social media activity on the radar, and sometimes acting within their legal jurisdiction if they come across something that raises [their] hackles […]”. This question prompted me to wonder what exactly the parameters are for their legal jurisdiction in regards to social networking forums, and are the “somethings” that raise their hackles?
In my opinion, if your hackles are raised, then you are probably squirming in your seat. If a pro-choicer overhears a pro-life conversation in a public setting (such as a coffee shop or restaurant), undoubtedly, the pro-choicer will become uncomfortable. Whenever our innermost convictions are challenged by opposing beliefs, it is our nature to feel attacked, at least to some degree. However, what society seems to forget (especially in the US, in which words such as “freedom” or “liberty” largely define the cultural norm) is that everyone is entitled to make their own choices; and even though there are beliefs, lifestyles, and moral codes that do not play well with others, does not mean that they are wrong. In general, sometimes I feel that society has become overly-concerned with creating rules and codes that forbid the possibility of anyone’s feelings being hurt, rather than focusing on ways for individuals to become more proficient at the art of tolerance. This world overflows with conflicting schools of thought, and perhaps social institutions should focus on educating people about learning to coexist with those who travel down different paths.
Osbourne creates a short list of instances in which Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube reveal behavior that was alarming enough to get the government’s attention. The worst instance on this list is an image of Andre Curry’s one year-old daughter bound in duct tape and posted to Facebook. Other instances include a UK student’s Twitter post regarding an intent “to destroy America”. According to the article, in the UK, “to destroy” can also indicate hard partying. Nevertheless, as Osbourne reports, “the teenagers were interrogated for five hours on suspicion of planning to commit crimes, held overnight, and then sent back to Britain the following day”. She also adds that “If they wish to return to the U.S., they must apply to London’s U.S. embassy for visas”.
Without question, the moron who bounds his one year-old daughter in duct tape deserves to be punished. Curry’s actions not only break constitutional law (law set in stone long before the emergence of Facebook) but these actions could also be proven by virtue of the evidence he himself provided. However, the Uk travelers who posted the “threatening” tweet (which was, by the way, posted prior to their three-week expedition to the US) should have not necessarily been treated like terrorists. (Last time I checked, terrorists don’t book three-week vacations in the country they are planning to attack. And it’s probably safe to assume that words can, in fact, have multiple meanings and interpretations.)
Facebook has become one of the most (if not the most) dominant platforms for social media. At the core of its success lies a notion of freedom, that seemingly makes Facebook the congressional hearing of social networking. We as humans are thirsty for validation, and Facebook is where and how we are given the chance to speak freely and openly about ourselves whether through photos, personal bios, status updates, or “likes”. If Facebook really is what it claims to be – this chance to speak freely without persecution – then why is it being used as a player piece in the game of “gotcha”?
If users are at risk for being banned from the site for speaking negatively towards a particular religion or political leaning, why do Facebook profiles prompt users to list their religion or political leaning in the first place? All I am saying is that IF Facebook claims to be this platform for personal expression, then on all fronts, it should remain that. Once it starts morphing into an interrogation tactic for the bosses of society to use against those who challenge societal norms and political correctness, then it has deviated from its original intention. Even the most egregious statement, claim, or opinion expressed on one’s personal profile should (in theory) be protected, not thrown in the user’s face.