For all the benefits social media provides its users every single day, there is also a dark side, a much darker side as we have been reminded by recent events around the world.
I am a self-admitted social media junkie. I often have times "turning it off" as my wife will attest. I have met so many interesting and knowledgeable people I would have never met in a million years if it not for social media. I've learned many things over the years re: social media and chief among them is with social media freedoms come social media responsibility. And unfortunately there appears to be no shortage of those who have taken those social media freedoms and have done things that have been incredibly irresponsible, to use perhaps the understatement of the century.
The London riots are of course front and center in every news cast around the globe and it's becoming clear that social media has played a major role in this seemingly endless uprising. In a column appearing on a site called thefutureisentertaining.com, a writer by the name of Becca Caddy makes reference to a statement made by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron in which the PM address social media specifically:
"Everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media.
Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.
And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them.
So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality."
In her column, titled Should Governments be Able to Control Social Media? Ms. Caddy makes the point, and I agree with her, that it would be wrong to lay the blame of the London riots solely at the feet of social media. Clearly social media, as well as smartphones - was a tool utilized by these hooligans to at the very least communicate in real time. But to consider censoring what is and what is not allowed online, which apparently is strongly being considered in the UK, is not the best tactic to take by any means. As Ms. Caddy says herself, "...there are other ways of combatting violence than blame, online censorship and restriction."
One such way may be to follow what the NYPD is now doing...
As reported in many news outlets, including the New York Daily News, the NYPD is has formed Facebook and Twitter units in order to track down and monitor criminals and criminal behavior on social media sites.
Clearly the London riots have had a direct impact on the formation of a new unit within the NYPD who "mine social media, looking for info about troublesome house parties, gang showdowns and other potential mayhem."
Another example of The Dark Side Of Social Media is the story which perhaps flew under your radar as we're all focused on the London riots.
This is one of the headlines regarding this "other" story: Conn. man hijacked woman's Facebook, e-mail accounts; demanded naked pictures as ransom: cops
The "online sextortionist" as one article referred to him as, was identified as John Joaquim III. He stands accused of hacking into a young woman's Facebook account then essentially holding it ransom in exchange for naked pictures of the woman.
When I first heard about this story, I was speechless, which for me, is saying a lot. I was appalled beyond words. But then, sad to say, I quickly realized that this should not surprise me... not in the world we live in today.
Not sure how many of you reading this will be old enough to remember this reference - not to say you're old, but I'm 45 and I remember the show Hill Stree Blues quite well. And one of the signature lines from the show, if not the signature line, was "Let's Be Careful Out There."
It was made famous by Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) and the "there" he referred to was the streets, literally.
When it comes to social media... "Let's be careful out there."