Three Cheers For Facebook
David Cameron apparently wants to turn up the pressure on Facebook after they defied demands to take down messages of support for gunman Raoul Moat. He attacked the social networking site for “doing nothing” to prevent hundreds of people posting tributes to Raoul Moat. Irrespective of what you think about the story and whatever your views are on Moat himself or the way the police handled it (personally – I think Gazza, who turned up with a bucket of chicken, should have been given a try to defuse things), the PM’s outrage typifies politicians’ attitudes to Social Media. It’s evil because they can’t control it.
It’s all About Control
British and Western politics (taking a leaf from many other totalitarian books) has become increasingly concerned with being “on message” and minimising opportunities for the expression of divergent views. If they cannot control the medium through vetting content (or subtly intimidating so that self-censorship will be practiced) they’ll attempt to control or influence by other means. That approach may be effective when you’re talking about the BBC – which is after all funded by what is in effect a tax that you have to pay whether you like it or not - but frustratingly for the powers that be, the same tack can’t be adopted with Social Media channels and communities.
Out of Control
You can’t control (nor can you ever hope to “control”) channels like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr etc. To their eternal credit, Facebook refused to take down the webpage in question, saying that although many people would find some of the topics discussed on the site ‘‘distasteful’’, that was not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening. Raoul Moat continues to dominate public debate and it is clear that there are lots of different and opposing opinions about Moat himself and about the investigation which surrounds him. These debates are being held in newspapers, online across the internet, in the pub, on the phone and at work.
Facebook issued a statement that read: “ Facebook is a place where people can express their views and discuss things in an open way – as they can and do in many other places and as such we sometimes find people discussing topics others may find distasteful, however that is not a reason in itself to stop a debate from happening”.
Social Media vs Social Responsibility
Cameron wants Facebook to remove the “offensive” page saying that: “Companies like Facebook have a responsibility to the people that use them and to society more broadly.” So how come Sky News, the Sun and the Daily Express don’t appear to be subject to any similar “responsibility” demands? Maybe it’s because they pretty much already toe the accepted line (and in some cases push for that line to be extended even further). Speaking of responsibility to society generally, if you plough through an average copy of the Daily Express for example, it’s sometimes difficult to understand why they’ve never been done for incitement to racial hatred!
So well done Facebook for standing up for freedom of speech – no matter how distasteful – but still legal. And take heed politicians and marketing people. Just like SEO, where the terms and context of the initial search are entirely defined by the searcher, so too social media communities “belong to” those communities. They are spaces over which you can never have control. Search activity is in the sole ownership of the searcher and Social Media is defined, delineated and determined by the members that make up those communities – and hopefully always will be.