Yesterday, I listened to a conversation on NPR that dealt with our responsibility as members of online social communities. The discussion focused on two incidents that happened on Twitter and Facebook, and since I have an account with both, I found the conversation interesting—if not a little disturbing.
Example #1-A young Englishman on Twitter mentioned that he was going to blow up his school. A Canadian follower saw the tweet, reported it immediately to the police who were able to work internationally to find the person and stop him before he carried out the act.
Example #2-A woman on Facebook stated on her status update that she was going to commit suicide. No-one that saw the statement did anything, assuming that someone else had or that it was not their responsibility to do so. The woman died at her own hand, after broadcasting her intentions to her “friends”.
What I have been considering is the reference to responsibility. We are compelled to act when our brother or a child or a neighbor cries for help yet I think that most of us don’t feel the same sense of duty toward those that we know only by status updates and 140 character tweets. But don’t we have a moral obligation to report comments like those above? One Canadian thought so, yet hundreds of facebook “friends” thought otherwise.
Social networking has given us the ability to connect with people all over the world. We have the opportunity to experience things through their eyes in ways we never dreamed possible. We are exposed to ideas that transcend borders. We learn about other cultures in ways that a textbook can’t teach us. We see differences, but we also recognize our similarities. We make friends.
These are just a few of the benefits of our global social networks. But as we continue to grow them, I think it’s time we think about what our responsibilities are toward each other: not as brothers or parents or neighbors, but as human beings.
A cry for help can now be heard around the world. Shouldn’t we be listening?