Social media and the Internet have impacted our lives in never before seen ways. We see, post and comment on everything, and the number of tweets generated from popular hashtags such as #TheDress to #BlackLivesMatter – and the resulting coverage from traditional media outlets – prove that ordinary citizens are literally causing and influencing conversations on a global scale.
We are no strangers to the phenomenon in Barbados. No longer are opinions being disseminate only via letters to the editor or call-in programmes; more and more Facebook, Instagram and other social media applications are being utilised to comment on topical matters or share information. It is,however, a very fine line to walk, one that is not always carefully negotiated, since social media posts have the ability to be harmful.
We do not face the same socio-political circumstances as our North American neighbours, where social media is driving coverage and protests about race relations, social economics, poverty and excessive police force in the United States. The hashtag, the categorisation feature on the internet, has become the new form of activism.
Cellphone video recording footage is used in those circumstances and is extremely valuable in providing another angle to view interactions between citizens or agents of the state. In Barbados, however, our citizen journalism seems to be the kind that seeks to “scoop” others, to get the story first or to circulate it among contact lists.
While this keeps the public up-to-date with the goings-on in the country, the use of social media is a very fine line to walk, one that seeks to sway public opinion without the attendant legal or moral obligations under which traditional media falls. It can be argued that established media has its failings, but established media also has protocols, legal requirements and moral obligations to observe. We have to walk that fine line every day with our published reports or broadcasts, and that responsibility is drummed into every journalist’s training – news that is factual, free of bias but covers the issues of the day.
It is unfortunate when those who record and disseminate information do not understand the grave responsibility for those who would take up that mantle. At times, persons put themselves into potentially dangerous situations, such as those who record police or military detentions in an effort to “get the details”. Or there are those occasions where persons record deaths or gruesome accident scenes. It is ghoulish and plays into the very real human phenomenon of curiosity and interest into current affairs. More often than not, that information may be too sensitive and/or are painful to the victim’s loved ones.
We live in a world where, like any other instrument, social media has its advantages and disadvantages. The Royal Barbados Police Force, while welcoming the public’s assistance with ongoing investigations, has asked the public to desist from disseminating the types of horrific videos that are distasteful and unnecessary.
As a public going forward, we hope that persons recognise that social media usage carries great responsibility and act accordingly.