Movies have them. Big cities have them. And, this week reminds us that social media also has them: dark underbellies, where the worst of humanity hangs out.
This week, two social media events in Australia, are reminders that while social media can be used for good – to connect to old friends, start campaigns, spread news – it can also have very dark side.
The first incident concerns a Facebook page. In Australia, an ex-Australian solider has been charged by police for creating a “gay hate” Facebook page which specifically targeted four members of the Defense Force in Australia.
The page was created by Surry Hills under the pseudonym “Steve Austin”; he created the Facebook page to “burn bandits getting around the ADF”. Four gay men’s names were published on the site (though they have been taken down). The page also apparently had links to violent, pornographic, and generally horrifying YouTube videos of executions (of presumably gay men) over images of coffins of dead Australian troops.
What’s more upsetting? Though the Facebook page identified several serving soldiers, the Force did not properly investigate the page. Nor, were there consequences for serving members linking to social media campaigns created to expose homosexual personnel.
The second disturbing use of Facebook comes from Ramazan Acar, also of Australia. You may want to take a breath before you read this: he took to Facebook to announce that he was going to kill his two year old daughter – as he was committing the act.
His Facebook status update read: “bout 2 kill ma kid”. Later, Acar claimed that he did it to get back at his girlfriend because he had been banned from seeing his daughter due to problems in the past.
While both of these particular incidents takes place in Australia, their geographical connection is coincidence. As is the use of Facebook. The same situations could have taken place in any country on any social networking site. In fact, similar situations probably are taking place, right now. It is no secret that social media can be used to harass, bully, and threaten. However, while it’s tempting to look away from the dark side of social media and blame specific people in specific circumstances, it’s important to take note of these incidents. Social media is public. This means that with both the Facebook page and the status update, people outside the situation knew what was happening.
While there are no laws pertaining to social media bystanders, there is still responsibility. As more and more of us are social media users, we need to ask ourselves: if confronted with the underbelly of social media – a death threat, an offensive page, a suicide attempt – what would we do?