We’ve discussed on many an occasion about the problems of spreading unverified messages via social media that identify and condem individuals.
We’ve also written before about the specific dangers of accusing people of apparent injustices in the public domain that is social media, and the potential consequences of these online witch-hunts.
Just ask 17 year old East Perth footballer Liam Powell this week, who was the subject to an ill-advised social media campaign outing him as a drunk youth who urinated on a war memorial via the viral image which you can see below, which even goes as far as giving out the location where he lived and urging others to share it.
The image angered many, who spread the image in a bid to condemn Powell for his thoughtless actions. But there’s a serious problem here. The man in the image isn’t Liam Powell.
It’s a British teen by the name of Phillip Laing who was convicted of his actions way back in 2009, meaning the image not only is out-of-date, but also identifies the wrong person.
Yet – perhaps predictably – despite social media users simply not knowing how accurate the image was, were STILL spreading it across social media. Naturally this led to Powell being the subject of many hateful comments and the target of plenty of anger. This naturally has led to much embarrassment for Powell’s family, compounded by the fact many of their ancestors fought in the military. Liams father Andrew says…
My father was in the navy and my grandfather was in the Second World War…Even my great-grandfather fought in the Boer War – the first war Australia was involved in which went from 1899 to 1901.
It’s trial by social media in its classic form. An unverified rumour being spread by angry social media users who seem more concerned with spreading a hateful message than verifying its accuracy.
(UPDATE: A second Liam Powell has also come forward to claim he has also been the target of hateful comments as a result of the viral image.)
So, once again we find ourselves reminding others that YOU are responsible for what you share on social media and your decisions can have very real repercussions for other people.
If you think a particular image is unacceptable for whatever reason, you can report it to the relevant authority for appropriate investigation. But Internet bandwagons don’t come included with any investigation. There is no jury, just judge. That isn’t fair by any standard, and it’s also plain dangerous.
Read our articles about the dangers of trial by social media here.