BBC Radio 4 – The Moral Maze: The Moral Code of Social Media

The Moral Code of Social Media

Availability:      Over a year left to listen
Duration:          43 minutes
First broadcast:   Wednesday 14 November 2012

If Lord McAlpine decides he’s going to sue those who wrongly accused him of being a paedophile any lawyers he consults could be extremely busy in the coming weeks. Not only would they have Newsnight and the BBC in their sights, but also those who named the peer on Twitter and other social networking sites.

Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that combined forces to produce the initial report may be clinging on to the fig leaf that they didn’t name Lord McAlpine, but they published all the clues like a scattered mosaic and it didn’t take very long for those on social networks to put them all together, wrongly as it happens and in some cases perhaps maliciously.

The internet feeding frenzy over who could be the top-Tory paedophile grew to such a fever pitch that Phillip Schofield, presenter of ITV1’s This Morning, on a live programme and without any evidence to back it up, gave a list of names he’d printed off the internet to the Prime Minister and invited him to investigate them. The situation at the BBC is serious, but those involved will be identified and some could lose their jobs and careers as a result.  But how should we deal with the almost countless thousands of people who used the internet to destroy the character of an innocent man they didn’t know and who seemed, from many of their tweets at least, to take great pleasure in doing so?

Twitter and other social media were supposed to be the tools to bring freedom of thought and expression to the internet; the ultimate democratiser giving anyone a voice to broadcast their thoughts to the world.

Is freedom of speech on the net so important that we have to accept that the occasional witch-hunt and trashed reputation is the price some people have to pay for the rest of our rights and entertainment?

Does the speed, anonymity and mimetic quality of social media make them uniquely malicious?

Or are we in danger of blaming the medium, rather than the message – all Twitter has done is lay bare our baser instincts; our love of gossip and the mob mentality that feeds on the weak and vulnerable?

And as we and traditional media increasingly tap in to this digital fog of instant comment, rumour and innuendo are we in danger of losing sight of a fundamental value – truth?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Kenan Mailk, Giles Fraser and Claire Fox.

Witnesses (in order of appearance):
Jamie Bartlett – Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media and Head of the Violence & Extremism Programme, Demos,
John Rentoul – Chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London,
Vicky Beeching – Visiting Research Fellow in Internet Ethics, University of Durham; theologian and social media consultant,
David Allen Green – head of media at Preiskel & Co and legal correspondent of the New Statesman.

Listen here.

One comment

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