Standing up for social media

Standing up for Social MediaHere at NSDesign we like to think of ourselves as a social company. Twitter, Facebook and the other networks are a big part of how we communicate with friends, clients, competitors and each other. We enjoy being there and it’s safe to say every member of our team would be using these networks one way or another, even if it wasn’t part and parcel of life working at a digital agency.

So it saddens us when we see social media misrepresented. And one article in Friday’s Daily Mail upset us so much and we feel it was so misleading that we felt it was our duty to respond.

The article appeared in the Scottish edition (on the front page) with the headline ‘March Of The Scots Facebook Criminals‘ and in the English edition under ‘8 Fold Increase In Facebook and Twitter Crime As Police Deal with 5,000 Cases’.

Let’s be clear – we’re well aware of the negative aspect of social media. We know people get themselves and the businesses they work for into trouble because of things they say on Twitter and Facebook that they wouldn’t dream of saying in the street. Since our first social media training sessions more than 4 years ago we’ve always included a serious look at the ‘dangers’ and featured case studies where we hope our clients will learn from others’ mistakes. We work regularly with leading employment lawyers and recently revamped and extended this section to take account of the recent controversy involving Lord McAlpine where many Twitter users came very close to facing legal action.

But as people who are on social media day in day out and who have watched it grow so dramatically over the last 5 years, we believe the Daily Mail’s article was grossly one sided, an exaggeration and a distortion of the truth.

The fact is social networks are an overwhelming force for good in this country.

33 million people in the UK, including 2.4 million in Scotland have personal Facebook profiles. There are 10 million registered UK Twitter users. Statistics show there were 4,908 reports of abusive, threatening or racist behaviour involving social networks across the UK last year, with 1,300 of them in Scotland.

While these figures do indeed show a rise since 2008 it is hardly surprising given the corresponding explosion in numbers of people signing up for social networks and the increasing amount of activity.

Just as some people misbehave at football matches, abuse the right to free speech, or use the telephone to threaten people and commit crime, so there is a minority who cause trouble on social media. But there are many, many more who use it as a valuable communications tool, to do business, make new friends and contacts, share news and ideas, support others and make the world a better place.

What follows is a copy of our response to the Daily Mail’s article. We hope they’ll print it.

Response to ‘March of the Scots Facebook Criminals’ – (Scottish Daily Mail, Friday December 28)

Sirs,

The above article requires perspective. The statistics quoted regarding the number of social media related crimes investigated by police do not back up the headline or tone of your article.

It is no surprise to see a rise in reported offences as there has been an exponential rise in the use of social networks in theUK since 2008. Twitter use alone increased 100 fold in that period and there are now 10 million active UK users – almost all of them not engaging in any sort of criminal behaviour.

There are now 33 million Facebook users in the UK, up from 11 million in 2008 and with users spending an enormous combined 500 million hours on the site every month.

Yet last year in total there were less than 5 thousand reports of threatening or abusive behaviour on social networks. Many people working in the digital sector had expected a much sharper increase given the huge rise in useage. Compared to other places where human beings communicate, it is clear that social networks are a factor in only a tiny amount of criminal behaviour.

Social media is a public space, and so abusive, threatening or racist behaviour should indeed receive the same treatment as it would were it to have occurred in the street or in a pub. However, this ‘menace’ is still very rare. In addition, much good work is being done in schools helping children stay safe online and a growing number of switched on employers are putting staff through social media training programmes so they understand the consequences of misbehaviour.

It is only natural that police forces will devote more resources to dealing with issues arising from this increased social media use just as they did to deal with the rise of the motor car, professional football and the 90s drinking culture.

Far from being ‘a menace’ your own figures make it very clear that even with such enormous numbers of users, Facebook and Twitter are having a relatively positive impact on society.

Gary Ennis

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2 Responses to “Standing up for social media”

  1. Gordon White

    As someone also involved in social media I totally agree with Gary’s assessment of the Daily Mail article on Friday.

    All too quickly, people want to blame social media platforms for the actions of individuals, I have long said that social media doesn’t fail – people using social media tools fail. Take away the tools and you’d probably find the same criminal element will be conning people and breaking the law in some other manner.

    The term ‘social media’ is perhaps misleading; social media is not Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In etc. etc… Social media is the act of becoming social – it is a fundamental shift in the way we communicate as individuals. It is not a menace but it does give menaces, criminals and nut-cases somewhere new to make a nuisance of themselves.

    Like Gary, I am involved with organisations everyday of the week who use social media, many of these organisations are using social media to effect change for the better. The proper use of these tools can reach people and influence change, it gives everyone a voice – perhaps the Daily Mail finds this part the real menace!

    As Gary alluded to in his comments, crime will manifest itself in all walks of life, I would suggest the crime figures quoted are tiny compared to the number of users and the daily activity. It wouldn’t surprise me if there were 5000 credit card crimes every day in the UK, does the Daily Mail brand credit cards a ‘menace’ or do they accept that without them we wouldn’t be able to access much of their own online offerings?

  2. Gary

    Well.. happy to confirm they finally printed my letter. Unfortunately, no official response from them.

    My response Printed