Social Media and Safety

Originally posted on October 20, 2014 @ 10:10 AM

Social Media and Safety and, Safety in Social Media

cyber safetyThere is no doubt that social media has changed the way we live, relationships, communication, politics and worldview. Hoffer (1951) The True Believer; Ellul, (1973) Propaganda; Sunstein (2006) Infotopia; Kirkpatrick (2010) The Facebook Effect ; Turkle (2011) Alone Together and Keen (2007, 2012) The Cult of the Amateur and #digitalvertigo, all shine a light on the issues associated with the nature of social media. In many ways social media is not that social and certainly creates a whole new range of challenges for safety people. This post looks at two angles of the social media phenomena: the way social media is changing safety (particularly looking at trolling ) and, safety in social media.

One of the early social psychology experiments was the Stanford Experiment and more here  conducted by Philip Zimbardo in 1971. The experiment demonstrates how easy it is with certain social circumstances to affect the way people make decisions. The problem with the ‘people chose to be safe’ argument  is that it totally ignores all the evidence that shows that human decision making is not simply black and white. Indeed, the last 50 years of research in social psychology demonstrates that our decision making is influenced by many things and is anything but a simplistic cognitive choice.

The Stanford Experiment demonstrates how easy it is through social and cultural factors to influence people to disassociate from others. This is also demonstrated by the Kitty Genovese (bystander) Effect ( Disassociation, detachment and disinhibition effects are all active in the social media. Webster’s research demonstrates this in his work on ‘trolling’ . The same influences that affect people in the Stanford Experiment and Bystander Effect are present in changes in people’s behavior on line. The belief that we are anonymous and that the climate of the Internet is for entertainment (trolls just want to have fun) clearly influence people to disassociate from others and behave in ways they wouldn’t if they were actually in the presence of the person they attack.

How many times have people on impulse trotted out an emotional email and pressed ‘send’ later to regret it? Or, don’t regret it at all because they believe they are protected by anonymity. (Living in Canberra and with friends in the AFP, there is very little anonymity on the Internet unless you are close to a genius on a computer). Especially moreso with the new anti-terror laws. It seems anonymity changes they way we behave to each other, normal social constraints and moral principles seem to go out the window if we think we can’t be found out. Anonymity and naivety create a new ‘false bravery’ when we get on social media and it is becoming a legal minefield. It seems when anonymous relationships don’t matter, that ‘other’ people who are ‘strange’ to us can be victimized, harassed and bullied. Indeed, such behavior shows that the troll doesn’t know the person whom they attack. So how does this affect safety?

Safety is a relational activity. Un-safety affects people, people get hurt when things are unsafe. When people get hurt all of their relationships change, including relations to one’s self. Unfortunately what we do affects us, our method becomes our meaning and our discourse shapes our worldview. Trolling says much more about the trolls than it does about the ‘person’ they attack. Pretty soon the troll loses any sense of moral compass and they soon believe their own lies. There is no dialogue or relational reference point when someone is on social media, it’s just the troll in the privacy of their own space. The more people engage in unethical behavior on social media, the more this behavior trickles down to other parts of their lives, pretty soon they justify disconnectedness from others. Trolling ‘hardens’ the person who trolls, compassion diminishes, care is unimportant, empathy reduces and individualism reigns.

Unfortunately, social media is not a very ‘social’ space and according to Keen ( ( ( ), it has become a very dumb down space. I know many academics (including myself) who don’t write on Linkedin Groups any more because of trolls. I have my own evidence from this site that trolls become liars and are deluded, all for sake of ‘fun and entertainment’. So, one effect of social media on safety is a continued dumbing down of discussion. Rather than enabling discussion and debate, such is now disabled. The evolution of Linkedin Groups is but one example of this phenomena.

The second aspect of social media is how to be ‘safe’ in social media space. Surprisingly people remain naïve about social media space. One of the best examples of ethics and naivety regarding social media was the recent release of thousands of nude selfies and fourth wave of celebrity nudes. I wonder how many of those children and ‘stars’ would be pleased by the idea of posing nude for a million people?

A very good and clear explanation of the risks of social media can be found at Kids Helpline. Having worked in the Youth Sector and Corrective Services, there is much pain and suffering out there that goes unnoticed by the activities of immoral people who hide behind anonymity. The Helpline site should be a must for any safety person and has lots of practical advice and tips for parents, carers and others in how to stay safe online. This Helpline page also has helpful links to research and other helpful sites regarding cyber safety and eSafety.

So whilst the safety community tends to focus excessively on physical risk and injury (believing that counting demonstrates ‘significance’), there is a great deal of harm that happens in ‘private’ space that is just as harmful, perhaps more harmful. Unfortunately, the safety sector is yet to fully realize the destruction of psychological and cultural harm. Poor old safety is busy counting zero band aids whilst ignoring the epidemic of mental health and psychological harm that is not counted because it seems ‘hidden’. Poor old safety continues to believe that ‘safety is a choice we make’ despite all the evidence around us that demonstrates that things happen to us and shape us by elements beyond us. For some positive tips on how to address mental health follow the links here ( (

Useful Resource: If you really want to be on top of protecting your kid from the potential dangers of smart phone use, then the infographic accessed by clicking the link is a useful resource. Don’t know your Snapchat from your Kik? You can bet that your kid does, so maybe it’s time that you got with the programme and found out precisely how to protect a modern kid from the dangers of the modern world. 

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