Fringe Box



Opinion: The Internet Is A Wonderful Thing But Not If Used To Exaggerate and Bully

Published on: 4 Jul, 2014
Updated on: 4 Jul, 2014
New Lib Dem group leader Cllr Caroline Reeves

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Caroline Reeves

By Caroline Reeves

The internet is a wonderful thing, communication is simple, quick and often free. But the very things that make it so invaluable can also be its downfall.

Recently we have seen two local petitions which have been very popular and reached large numbers of people, but they have not been wholly accurate in what they have stated. Both have caused stress, even if this was not the intention of the individuals who set each one up.

One concerned a convicted paedophile and was started after the Daily Mail ran a very emotive piece about the person being on the streets of Guildford near our children.

While there was some truth in what was said (the person in question was in a local probation service hostel) the implication that he was roaming the streets, unwatched by anyone in authority, gave rise to further petitions and demands on Facebook for him to be removed.

The language became more and more emotive with demands that the police do something. In fact, such matters are in the hands of the Ministry of Justice, not the police, although the police are obviously responsible for the safety of all our residents.

Stories of a man being seen with a camera, hiding in bushes may have been tabloid reporters looking for a story rather than the man in question, but added to the atmosphere of threat.

The other petition related to a request by residents for the licence of the Boileroom in Stoke Fields to be reviewed. The request was accepted by the council’s licensing team, and a date for a hearing has yet to be set. The request was lodged because residents felt that the conditions of the licence granted by Guildford Borough Council were not being adhered to, the request was not to close the venue down.

Cyber bullyingAn online petition named ‘Guildford Borough Council: Save The Boileroom from Closure’ was created and signatures appeared very quickly. Of course, everyone is fully entitled to their opinion, and the Boileroom obviously doesn’t want their business to be closed down, but that was not the, clearly stated, point of the request to review the licence.

Since the creation of the petition 17,500 people have signed to save the Boileroom from closure. As a borough councillor and a ‘target’ (‘s expression, not mine) I am notified when someone signs the petition, so I get an email telling me that the signatory: “has not heard any bass breakout or noise from The Boileroom which would cause a nuisance to myself.”

This is not surprising when the person lives the other side of the river, and even less surprising when they live in Sydney or Pennsylvania. But my point is that, thanks to the internet, it is all too easy to create a body of protest which is actually misinformed.

The paedophile petition has now lost its impetus, the Boileroom still collects signatures, but more worryingly this issue has spread to Facebook with very hateful and threatening comments being posted about individuals, and has further degenerated to the children of residents in the area being targetted by their peers at school through Facebook.

The misinformation spreads and gains its own momentum, and it’s all too easy to join in with the spiteful comments while the real issue is lost in a vortex of competing insults and the rush to be seen to comment. It does not help when anonymous, unmoderated comments are included without anyone checking whether what is said is hateful, libellous, obscene, inaccurate or simply untrue.

Even so, I do still believe that the internet is a truly wonderful thing, but it can be misused all too easily to spread misinformation and bully and we must guard against that.

Caroline Reeves is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Friary & St Nicolas and the leader of the Lib Dem Group at the borough council.

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