Good people sometimes do dumb things, or say something thoughtless.
But that’s not a good reason to damn them, or destroy their online reputation.
So I was alarmed to read about a new Kickstarter campaign for a website called Social Autopsy that aims to build a “digital footprint” database of those who use social media to spread hate.
Check out Social Autopsy’s FAQ for more details:
What is a digital footprint?
Users submit a screenshot of a person’s hate-fueled social media post, which is then used to create a profile that includes their full name, place of employment, city of residence and schools.
How do you discover users real names?
Screenshots are submitted anonymously by online friends of that user. Their “friends” of course, know their full names and details.
Social Autopsy says it will officially launch when it has created 100,000 profiles (it claims to already have over 20,000) and is encouraging internet users to submit new entries.
Although I recognise the problems faced by the victims of online abuse, the idea of a website building a searchable database of “real profiles” of alleged culprits sends a shiver down my spine.
I’ll leave it to you, gentle reader, to imagine for yourself the ways in which such a scheme could go badly wrong and be easily abused.
Watch the following video where broadcaster, author and (in his past) Frank Sidebottom keyboard player Jon Ronson discusses public shaming on social media with Monica Lewinsky.
You can read more about Jon Ronson’s book, “So you’ve been publicly shamed”, on his website.
Yes, there are plenty of ghastly examples of people acting inappropriately and insensitively and aggressively online. Some even hide their true identities because they fear the repercussions if their identities are uncovered.
But I don’t think that gives the internet a green card to launch a witch-hunt.
There’s a real danger that if we attempt to fight trolls the wrong way, we end up acting like cyber-bullies ourselves. And innocent people could end up being hurt.
Be nice to each other. No-one is 100% bad. If someone is misbehaving online maybe all they really need is a bit of a hug. If that isn’t going to help, report abuse to the social network or the authorities - rather than add their details to a searchable database built by a private company.