Facebook · social media · trolls · Twitter

It’s all fun and games until Twitter turns nasty- as featured in ABC’s The Drum

Check out my latest piece on social media trolling. Here’s what to do when social media gets nasty:

The harassment of Robin Williams' daughter and Charlotte Dawson reveal the nasty side of social media. Picture: AFP/ABC News.
The harassment of Robin Williams’ daughter and Charlotte Dawson reveal the nasty side of social media. Picture: AFP/ABC News.

The immediacy and reach of social media can be empowering, but when it’s used purely for harassment the flaws of the system are revealed, as too many have recently discovered, writes Sarah Malik.

There’s a reason why it’s advised to avoid religion and politics in polite company. Add self-appointed punditry and social media to the fusion and you have a recipe for immediate combustion.

Get together with any group of friends and you will hear war stories on friendships strained and out-of-control online debates that veer into a blood sport.

A recent piece in the New York Times suggested 69 per cent of social media users have witnessed digital cruelty. Moderators at the The Guardian recently considered whether online anonymity should be an option rather than the default position in commentary after noting an eruption of particularly vile contributions around controversial topics, like gender issues.

Barely a week goes by without a Twitter controversy that wrecks careers and even destroy lives, from the hilarious to the tragic. Who could forget the tragi-comedy that was Weiner-gate and most recentlyBotham-gate that forced spluttering explanations on why public Twitter accounts had been plastered with mysterious genitalia, the former that derailed a promising political career.

Most recently Robin Williams’ daughter was forced to quit Twitter after trolls hounded her online, and earlier this year the suicide of TV personality Charlotte Dawson shocked Australia amid reports of Twitter bullying. Disturbingly women seem to be the most common target of these attacks.

The swift brutality of internet campaigns can also claim high profile scalps, with Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton earlier this month quitting after coming under fire when he snapped responding tounprecedented internet trolling after writing a searing piece on the carnage in Gaza.

Alan Moran from the right-wing think tank, Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) was reportedly given the sack after allegedly tweeting “Is there ever anything but evil coming from Islam?”

Perhaps a little more strident than the IPA’s usual fare.

The online world has become inescapably woven into our social experiences and the way we process events in the 24-hour news age. For the punter unsure how to deal with it all, there have spouted a corresponding multitude of pieces advising on navigating social media and argument in the internet age from losing friends on Facebook over political differences, to dealing with online trolls, and cautionary warnings on the end of the columnist golden age.

#firstworldproblem, right? The immediacy of the internet means no more filters between your own thoughts and the world, or you and the object of your disdain.

The lack of filters is not an entirely negative. In the case of public figures, tweeting, Facebook, live radio and TV blunders can provide a delicious insight into a personality outside a perfectly crafted PR image. When it comes to the crazy and entertaining, you don’t get better than Clive Palmer, in hot water over his most recent bizarre outburst labelling the Chinese “mongrels” on ABC talk show Q&A. It follows Palmer United party cohort Jacqui Lambie, who seems to have taken a leaf from the Clive book of inappropriate comments, with her oversharing of her partner preferences on radio.

I can’t help but feel this is almost a flip side of a timid age where public figures and even private individuals unleash after being constrained in a world of tightly scripted image building and the niceties forced in IRL (internet speak for “in real life”) encounters.

But does the free-for-all have any limits?

Criticism is healthy. A hilarious send-up or a spot on critique furthers and enhances debate, provides room for growth and the contestation and banter of wits. Social media and blogging spaces in particular are powerful ways for minority communities to create counter communities against oppressive dominant discourses and empowering spaces for voices not traditionally heard.

You can see this with the creation of Facebook groups like A Man’s hijab, an internal send-up of gender double standards and the Lakemba mannequin man, lampooning a bizarre article in the Daily Telegraphtrading on tired stereotypes of the Muslim community and Lakemba, in Sydney’s south-west.

But it’s when commentary get vicious, repetitive and personal, with smear attacks masquerading as “critiques” veering on harassment that it seems to go beyond making a point once. The freedom of speech to make a critique should not assume the critique needs to be accepted or responded to and its aim shouldn’t be the trashing and destruction of the person who is the subject of the critique.

This seems to be attack on the right of free speech itself. Those privileged in this give and take don’t seem to be the minority voices, but the loudest bullies.

If going cold turkey online doesn’t appeal, perhaps the most apt advice comes from the unlikely Taylor Swift and her latest hit, “Haters gonna hate. You just gotta shake it off”.

If that fails, consider taking the disturbances as a perverse compliment, in the style of Oscar Wilde who embraced controversy with the droll riposte: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

This article was originally published on ABC’s The Drum (http://www.abc.net.au/thedrum). Read the original article here (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-27/malik-its-all-fun-and-games-until-twitter-turns-nasty/5699666).

media · violence · war

When tragedy strikes, even onlookers can suffer- as featured in ABC’s The Drum

Here is my latest in ABC’s The Drum “When tragedy strikes, even onlookers can suffer”. The impact of news overload on people’s stress levels was a big talking point, particularly on social media. So many people have messaged me to say the piece has touched on what they too had been thinking about or experiencing.

The piece reflects on my experience as a social media user and as a journalist covering tragic events. I talk more about the inspiration for the piece in this BBC world interview , check me out around the 12 minute mark.

After a week dominated by tragedy and death – and a 24-hour news and social media cycle broadcasting it to us – what impact could this have on our mental health? 

“I have no philosophy, nor piety, no art of reflection, no theory of compensation, to meet things so hideous, so cruel and so mad, they are just … horrible and irremediable to me and I stare at them with angry and almost blighted eyes.” – Henry James

Social media has been a great way to raise awareness and keep journalists accountable...but graphic pictures posted by some has disturbed some users. Picture: Flickr/Johann Larson.
Social media has been a great way to raise awareness and keep journalists accountable…but graphic pictures posted by some has disturbed some users. Picture: Flickr/Johann Larson.

It has been a crazy news week. The second Malaysian Airlines plane crash in five months – the first saw a plane just vanish off the face of the planet and the latter with 36 Aussies among 298 dead after MH17 was shot out of the sky – has seen two unprecedented once-in-a decade news events back-to-back.

You can add to that the alarming death toll in Gaza that has left hundreds dead, a third of them women and children.

The pictures of mangled bodies among plane wreckage and dead children in hospitals dancing on our screens has left many feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed.

The impact of these tragedies on innocent civilians has honed home the transience of life and stirred anger towards those refusing to take responsibility for the carnage.

What has compounded these crises, besides being in close proximity to each other, is our unprecedented 24-hour news and social media cycle.

There are many positives to our new media environment.

It means immediate and constant coverage and a stream of stories that keep us aware of what is happening in the world. It means new voices outside traditional media can make themselves heard.

Journalists and news organisations are now made more accountable as an increasingly savvy audience will call them up on blunders in brutally efficient social media campaigns. The most recent saw NBC journalist Ayman Mohyeldin swiftly reinstated after being withdrawn from Gaza.

But is there a downside to the 24-hour news and social media cycle?

It seems we are caught in a catch-22 situation; the greater appetite for coverage feeds the constant stream of output by media organisations struggling to milk the story of every angle.

But is the constant barrage of information and sometimes graphic content spilling over our screens and personal social media networks having an impact on mental health?

Studies show those exposed to more than six hours of daily coverage of a traumatic news event can suffer more stress than those directly affected.

Melbourne psychologist Monique Toohey says in seeing graphic images an unwanted and intrusive replaying can occur, particularly as people try to unwind and go to sleep.

What you see cannot be unseen. I use this statement with my clients who find themselves replaying horrific images and videos and stories in their mind, hours and days after they were exposed to them in their Facebook or Twitter feeds.

I’ve never seen so many sad people this week. Even hardened journalists looked at me with bleary eyes reporting news fatigue.

Whether it was on your phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, at work or in a social setting, the news was streaming in, often unbidden from all directions.

Most media outlets filter pictures, prefaced with warnings, carefully balancing the news imperatives of showing the gritty reality but also being respectful of the dead.

Some media outlets, including NY Times and the Sydney Morning Herald, featured graphic coverage that was much applauded. I think written accounts occupy a different sphere. It gives you the full impact of the scene without the physicality.

In this coverage it was the small details that gave poignancy and humanised the tragedy, in a way gory blood images could not. Also when a reader clicks on a written story, they have the option of continuing to read or not.

Images, however, cannot be erased. Twitter and most social media outlets expose users in their social spaces, who are not seeking that content. In the case of family members who have not been notified, the results of exposure can be especially tragic. While Facebook and Twitter guidelines implore users to act responsibly, it is largely a self-regulated sphere.

Many of my friends felt disturbed by the graphic pictures of dead Palestinian children in news feeds used as a kind of moral pornography in propaganda fashion – designed to shock and often featuring dated or wrong images that undermined their cause and disrespected the victims. These pictures accompanied by self-righteous ballasts, ironically made from the comfort of a first world living room just fed the often draining debates that have left people feeling more angry and dejected.

I don’t undermine the power of social media to provide solidarity, support and powerful emotional sustenance to those outside the tragedies to vent their anger, frustration and powerlessness and also organise to rally. But I know many people have become paralysed and switched off by the overkill.

Ms Toohey advises those who fear this exposure to protect their online spaces, moderate their activity and post responsibly.

Personal censorship is required and each individual should tune in to their emotions and know when to turn the TV off, scroll quickly past photos before they load and, rather, engage in helpful coping strategies.

By switching off occasionally and having time to reflect it can empower people to help in practical ways.

In covering major news events, what I was always reminded of but could rarely report was people’s grace and courage under the most unspeakable circumstances. Whether it was a murder victims’ family using the death to become activists against drink driving or a community rebuilding after being shattered by bushfire.

The capacity of humans to endure, hope and dream despite it all is what should give us hope. The stories of survival and resilience should inspire us to support those who have the courage to bear what we find difficult to even witness.