On the Malta Independent website on May 22nd, Peter Fenech wrote an opinion piece which outlined his thoughts on the social media. While Mr Fenech’s opinions were expertly laid out, I have to express my surprise at some of the conclusions he drew as well as to the inaccuracies in the piece.

Just seven lines into the article, the piece hits its first snag when saying that, “Social media has brought with it the anonymous invasion of one’s privacy.” While this is of course true of anyone who uses the social media, the fact remains that social media uptake is entirely a voluntary matter.

Personally, I have no problem with anyone in the world knowing what I willingly disclose on my various social profiles, (around 5 at last count), but a number of people I know are not, and so refuse to create social media profiles.

The word anonymous is also a misnomer when used here, given that social networks have various privacy controls, ranging from protected tweets on Twitter (where one must approve users before they can see one’s tweets) to the hugely varied privacy controls on Facebook which can be tailored infinitely. The truth of the matter is that using social media is a trade off in the great tradition of McLuhan; they are free to use and connect us to all corners of the world instantly, but in turn open a window onto us, allow us to be advertised to and sometimes sell some of our data to advertisers and data companies. If one is not comfortable with this trade off, one should refrain from the social media completely.

The trade off of social media - you can lock it down, but if you give someone the key they can peer in (and that's exactly what we want!)

The trade off of social media – you can lock it down, but if you give someone the key they can peer in (and that’s exactly what we want!)

Mr Fenech also reasons in favour of more international control on the social media and says that “taking control of what goes viral is not a question of censorship, but of ensuring that people are held responsible for their comments”, however in doing so, he fatally exposes his poor understanding of even what the term to ‘go viral‘ means.

Furthermore he states that, “blogging should require a person’s identity card or passport verification before participation“, however this veers into dangerous territory and raises two questions.

Firstly, what does Mr Fenech understand by ‘blogging’? Does he mean ‘comment’, the unfortunate erroneous association often perpetrated in this regard? A comment is not a blog; this is fundamental.

And secondly, would Mr Fenech suggest that the Tunisian and Egyptian bloggers, instrumental in bringing about the events which led to the Arab Spring should have had their details logged with the autocratic state authorities?

 

While I can understand and commend Mr Fenech’s undoubtedly positive sentiment in that he would like less harm taking place as a direct consequence of our utterly ubiquitous state of connectivity, he must not be so naive as to think that the internet can be controlled in any such way first and foremost and secondly that such control does not signify censorship.

Noms de plume have been a time honoured method of passing on messages when one fears for one’s safety, and indeed great works have been written under noms de plume. Would Mr Fenech in retrospect suggest that founding father Benjamin Franklin be censured for his extensive use of nom de plume? After all, using names such as Anthony Afterwit and Alice Addertongue, Franklin humorously examined society, spread gossip, or exposed the flaws in conventional thought.

 

I can understand Mr Fenech’s trepidation when it comes to social media, as I hear similar thoughts from a number of my clients, however, one must be careful not to err and tar everyone with the same brush. I invite Mr Fenech to read what I suggest my clients read on this very website, (https://systemato.com/services/social-media-marketing/) that social media is in fact about maintaining a dialogue and starting one where it never existed before. Surely this can not be reprehensible!

 

In conclusion, the problem with going on a rant about social media is that all too often, it exposes the writer’s deep mistrust and unfortunate misunderstanding of the benefits and perils which social media is blessed and cursed with.

In the great scheme of things, the social media is only the latest in a long line of developments which afford the person in the street a voice to proclaim, and as with the media, there are reputable, honourable people out there, as well as charlatans and people who would just want to watch the world burn, to quote just one of my favourite ‘gone viral’ memes.

I hope I don't have to explain the joke here.

I hope I don’t have to explain the joke here.

Mark Debono

Author Mark Debono

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