5th January 2016

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

(Warning – ranty blog/opinion/strop!)

Winston Churchill is credited with the quote: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”  And this was back in the days before the world wide web was even a twinkle in Berners-Lees’ eye.

Since then, the advent of social media channels has super charged the spreading of ‘breaking news’, misinformation and pure gossip to prodigious levels, to the point we’re at now where it’s possible – actually quite common – for a person or a company/brand to be damaged, sometimes beyond repair, for something they might not even have done.

So my question is: where is it all going to end?

There doesn’t seem to be any way to tame the social media beast that tries, convicts and kills in the blink of a retweeting eye, without even pausing to consider the damage it’s doing – after all, it’s not hurting ME so who cares, right?

Well, in my opinion, we should care. We should, at the very least, think.  Would we walk into a room filled with the equivalent number of people we have as followers/friends and shout out something we’ve just heard, without even pausing for one second to check it’s true? No (well, I suppose some would but…) so why do we think it’s ok to share the same ‘information’ online?

Personally, I think it’s all gotten a little too easy. A little too salacious. We just enjoy it too much. (Especially those foul trolls who use the cloak of anonymity to spread their bile.)

Ooh did you hear….?

Wow – how disgusting is this…?

Listen to what I just heard…?

Do we not stop to think about the human being/s behind the ‘story’ we’re spreading because we don’t have to look them in the eye in the aftermath and see the damage we’ve helped bring about?

And I’m not just talking about individuals – it should be obvious why we don’t unthinkingly do them harm – but also corporations and brands.  Have we forgotten that, behind and inside every lazily labelled ‘fat cat’ corporation we libel (and yes it IS libel) there’s an owner, suppliers, employees – sometimes thousands – all of whom could lose their jobs, their livelihoods, even their homes…and all because we helped spread something there’s a chance didn’t actually happen.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gathered the years and the scars these years bring, is that there is always two sides to every story.  Always.  And I believe it’s incumbent upon me to ensure I understand both sides before I even think about discussing said story wider.

There was a time when the chattering classes’ propensity to harm by gossip was small – only among our immediate friends and family could we do damage. It was then left up to the media to take a tale wider – and they did this within a set of guidelines which included at least checking sources and getting facts corroborated before printing… (but that’s a whole other blog…)

Now, social media makes us all Johnny journalists, commentators, ‘experts’ with an audience ready to consume, spread and comment, with little knowledge and, often, no authority or responsibility.

So my plea to us all is that we just take a breath.

Sometimes there IS smoke without fire.

Before clicking retweet, just think: do I know this thing I’m about to share with my friends, followers, random people – many of whom I don’t know – is even remotely true?

And if the answer is no, then, to quote another important person in (my) history (my Mum): “If you’ve nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Mums always know best.

That’s all.


By Sandy Lindsay MBE, Tangerine Group Chair