Monday, August 8, 2011

Social Networks: A Question of Responsibility

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?


Anonymous said...

Not sure about this, Kellinator. I don't tweet (or shave my back) but I had to put up a FB thing 3 years ago for publicity. I'd think it is a moral responsibility to report someone posting something about suicide. I sure hope it is a moral responsibility ... but inevitably they'll be some lunatic (or clever MF'er) posting nonsense for the sake of a diversion. It would always be a judgment call, I guess.
- Charlie

-RWWGreene said...

Back in the early days of MMORPGs, I used to play a game called "Modus Operandi." It was a text-based mystery game set on an island. While playing, I hung out with a character named "Gabriel Perchance." One night, he/she/it went "into labor" and I hastened to help, offering to go offline (dial-up days) and call for help if she/he/it would only give me a phone number and real-life location. He/she/it abruptly logged off and I never "saw" her/him/it again. Was there a baby? Who knows.

Anonymous said...

I would call 911 ... doesn't hurt to try.

! said...

This is a great post. Social networking has made our world small. I have several long-time friends I've never met who are very much real and very much a part of my life. Just as it has broken barriers of boundaries of nations and cultures, it has also made duplicitous behavior even easier. The double-edged sword routine. We, therefore, have a responsibility to ourselves to keep our eyes wide open and remain a bit skeptical for own protection. We also should respond when we see postings that require us to do so morally if it occurred in the lives of our non-electronic friends. Yes there may be drama makers out there and yes by responding we give them their fix, but what if the suicide threat is real? I say respond.

Kathy Holmes said...

And this is the dichotomy of Facebook and social networking. In some ways it does connect people - in other ways it just allows people to peek into other people's lives. It's another technology that offers opportunities for the positive but it is also another technology that has to be managed because it can be not so good. As the previous poster said, a "double-edged sword."

Natalie R. Kenney said...

Good to hear about the Twitter response. Nice to know that there are people out there who are willing to take someone seriously enough. The issue of course becomes false reports, and how to determine whether someone is just blowing off steam.

With regard to the second example you mentioned, there's actually a psychological phenomenon - the bystander effect - that demonstrates this; the most well-known example probably being the Kitty Genovese murder. She was killed on the steps of her apartment building and of the 38 neighbors that heard her cries for help, not one of them called the police or went to check on her... It's really sad.

Is this part of the human condition? Ignoring fellow humans who cry out for help or threaten to harm others? Was that the difference in these cases, as the person who threatened harm to others was the one responded to, as opposed to the woman who threatened only herself?

I think that it's important to always be available to help others if we can. Great post, Kelly.