A Double-Edged Sword


“Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”

Attributed to Chief Seattle 1854

Within the last couple of decades we have seen the emergence of another web – the World Wide Web, or www. as it’s more commonly known.  A wonderous thing indeed and I’m sure my predecessors would have marvelled at it and utilised it as a useful tool.  However, like many things of power it is two-edged and can also be used as a weapon to abuse others.  Man’s invention is astonishing at times but I wonder how much inventors think about the future implications of their discoveries when they fall into the hands of ruthless and irresponsible people?  Lets look at the phenomena called Social Networking which incorporates the use of chatrooms, forums and particularly the use of Facebook.

Back when I was young I remember every neighbourhood and community had their share of what was called ‘net-twitchers’.  These were individuals who kept a close eye on all the comings and goings of their neighbours – they were also referred to as ‘busybodies’ and nosey-parkers’.  They were usually rather sad individuals who were often socially inadequate in some way, didn’t have enough going on in own their lives of interest and so they compensated by vicariously spying on their neighbours.  Consequently they were also avid gossips and knew their community well enough to know who to pass gossip on to in order to spread rumour.  This was always conducted from behind net curtains so that they couldn’t be seen – hence the term ‘net-twitcher’.  On the whole these folk were seen as nuisances only and were often pitied by the more charitable in the community.  Occasionally however, these irritating but harmless people would turn into something more sinister and you would get malicious rumours starting which would then escalate into a hate campaign against some individual in the neighbourhood.  This could be further fuelled by ‘poison-pen’ letters being distributed which could wreak discord and havoc within a community by appealing to a ‘mob mentality’ where actual bodily harm could be the unfortunate outcome.  The victim of this kind of ‘witch hunt’ was often the focus of envy by the perpetrator, or stood out in some way as different from others.  This is something that periodically occurred within small communities and it took a while to build up.  Not so anymore!

Due to the immediacy of the internet, large numbers of people can be reached within seconds. I have watched with horror how quickly nasty rumours can turn into a vicious hate campaign with others actively inciting further venomous comments and threats.  I have witnessed this first hand, and it was chilling to observe how quickly the poison spreads – no wonder it’s called ‘viral’ when it really runs amok!  It now has earned itself the title of cyber-bullying and it is on the increase especially when like-minded individuals jump on the bandwagon and gang up.  It really can bring out the worst side of human nature.

In the old days so to speak, if someone said or did something to upset you then you would talk to your partner when they got in from work, or rang your friend(s) up – it would take a while to communicate your upset to others.  Consequentally some time went by before you responded which gave you a chance to think things through.  However, most people now respond immediately and often impulsively without consideration, often misunderstanding or assuming insults where none were intended.  Since most of the communication is written,  much is open to misinterpretation despite ’emoticons’ being used.

I personally have a rule of thumb where, generally speaking, if I receive a message that I find emotionally upsetting, I will ‘sleep on it’ and respond the next day.  This gives me a chance to process it and respond in a more measured way.

The anonymity of hiding behind a PC with a false profile/name gives some free rein to unleash all sorts of unjust accusations through insinuation and rumour in order to ruin reputations.  Regrettably there are quite a few ‘saddos’ out there who get their jollies through this type of manipulation and intrigue.  Mind you, some folk do themselves no favours when they forget that Facebook goes worldwide and tend to use it like a diary and treat it like a friend – this leaves them wide open to these pernicious predators.

It’s such a shame because so many wonderful things can be achieved through constructive networking.  The sharing of inspirational music, art, dance and other creative endeavours; the rallying call of worthy campaigns; easy links with loved ones and reuniting long-lost families and friends; the dissemination of learning and knowledge – the list is fascinating and endless!

Then you get the darker side with intrusive pornography and ever-increasing violence and bigotry…  What’s the answer?  A lot of people blame Facebook and the like – but it’s not the system, it’s the operator that makes working with the Internet a good or bad experience.  Like magic, the Net is basically neutral, it’s how people utilise it that colours it.

So what do we do?  We can’t undo it, the technology is here to stay and is escalating whilst so many of our young people live more and more ‘virtual’ lives at the expense of their actual lives.  Some feel that the answer is to disassociate from all social networking but is that too little too late?  The introduction of the Internet is truly a double-edged sword.  Are we going to wield it with integrity as a sword of truth?  Or will it be used to wound and murder?


Answers on a Postcard please!  😉

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