A Good [Online] Society

3rd Jun 2019 - Stuart Weir

We live in a cyber age. I pay my bills online. I check my bank account online. I communicate with my friends on social media. I write emails to my MSPs. I set up an online shop for my weekly groceries. I book my tickets to the pictures online. I get my prayer information on an app. I submit my application for a new garage to the local council on their portal. I share my photos from walking the dog on social media. I photograph the label from my wine bottle on an app which finds all the nearest vendors which sell it. The BBC Sport app pings me when there’s any news on my beloved rugby team. And so on…

The component parts of our lives are being rearranged to the extent I can do every little thing on my phone. Well almost.

For all that there are advances in new technologies that strive to make our lives one of convenience, there are troubling aspects to life online. Why is it I can ‘befriend’ someone on social media and for all that we share about our lives there we can never truly know one another? I meet someone in a café and I can learn in one hour in one someone’s company more than I could in fifteen years solely online. How weird is that? It certainly tells me something crucial about the limitations of the cyber world.

A 16 year old girl in Malaysia recently committed suicide by jumping off a building after a 24 hour poll on Instagram where she asked: “Really important, help me choose: D/L”. 69% of her respondents chose death for her. She took their advice.

You could argue that such a seemingly flippant question might have taken place in an actual discussion with physically present friends. And you might be correct. But to have the capability to ask the online world to vote on this and then take such an outcome as guidance for your life, or death in this case, is nihilistic madness.

A Finnish reporter recently exposed a Russian based troll factory in St Petersburg. A factory full of people aggravating, annoying, stalking and antagonising others online as their daily work. She woke the beast and was forced to flee Russia back to Finland, has been vilified, and has ongoing fears for her life due to threats of intimidation. She is a determined woman however, as she will continue to fight such a heinous initiative which makes the cyber world a dangerous place to be.

What have we created for our young people?

We need a society that cares about what happens online. For society to ever be considered ‘good’ we require a way of deflecting and blocking the worst kinds of evil online. Because the floodgates of the dam opened back in the mid 90s it is very difficult to try and put appropriate boundaries in place that make it a safe place to play for kids. The web will never be a sin-free zone. Allowing freedom of expression will always be part of the internet.

I admit that I love convenience, but I am all for sites, apps, portals, social media channels being forced to ensure that people of appropriate age are entering certain cyber spaces. It would be a pain in the neck I know, but only a society that cares about online being a place of safety for our youngest can ever claim to be good.

For more, see the work we’re doing on this: https://care.org.uk/our-causes/marriage-and-family/online-safety

Stuart Weir is Director of CARE for Scotland. This is the tenth blog in a series called A Good Society. You can read the others here

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