Fri | Aug 18, 2017

The social media sewer

Published:Sunday | March 20, 2016 | 3:00 AM

Actually it's my long-time favourite, Gully Bop, who recently had me thinking about the dangers of social media. There's something to be said about social media's ability to facilitate the articulate minority or whatever you want to call them, but I am also impressed by the power of social media to disseminate rubbish, simplistic ideas posing as wisdom, and to generally malform debates. It's impressive in its power, but also by its potential for malevolence and destruction.

Gully Bop, for instance, owed his initial popularity to social media. A scratchy low-quality phone video had emerged of him freestyling on a ghetto dirt 'road' lined with zinc fences. He had a fresh-faced, clear-eyed excitement that utterly belied his otherwise world-worn features and toothless testament to years of suffering. He took such evident pleasure in his own lyrical cartwheels that it was infectious and went viral.

Since then, he has remained in the news. At one point, he was struggling to get his visa. At another he was threatening to fix his teeth, which social media deejay-experts worried would change his delivery. He has had ups and downs with producers. He has had spats with other entertainers. Through it all, he maintained a relationship with a woman known online as 'Shauna Chin Buffness', a British-Jamaican girlfriend-promoter-artiste.

So what sadness in the midst of last Christmas season when the same social media exploded with news about the Bop-Chin Buffness partnership coming to an end. There were mutual accusations of abuse, rival videos posted online, competing interviews with a hungry media. It became a full-blown he-said, she-said situation.

The most unforgettable video was one where Bop was sporting a sizable gash in his head, blood dripping down his face, and accusing Chin Buffness of smashing him - with a padlock.

Take it all as a warning and talisman of caution. This social media phenomenon can have unintended consequences, not the least of which is that relationships formed out of it can lead to a padlock applied with force to the forehead.

More recently, what just happened to Dahlia Harris is, to my mind, a terrible omen of treacherous waters ahead. Ms Harris is a popular personality, and not, as far as I know, affiliated with any political party. The proof of it was that partisans of both sides gleefully took to social media to attack her mercilessly for belonging to the other side. After a nuclear onslaught, she has resigned.

Pity the misguided activists who vented their feelings to Abka Fitz-Henley for NNN's own subtle activism over the just-concluded long election campaign. I haven't followed the story closely, but what I do know is this: Had they vented on social media, it likely would have passed without raising too many eyebrows. What causes letters from press associations to party leaders in real life, and hopefully some hand-wringing and soul-searching, passes as unremarkable in the anarchic world online.

 

BRUTAL AND SAVAGE

 

It is difficult to explain to people who haven't seen it for themselves how raucous, tribal, brutal, and savage a simple chatroom or discussion thread can become in an instant.

Numerous studies have shown that the anonymity of posting from a phone or computer to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs, etc., plus the fact that posters most often don't know the person or people they're 'talking' to, has a significant disinhibiting effect. In other words, people are far more likely to relax their normal self-control and simply go at it like wild beasts, or wildebeests.

It's not a problem unique to Jamaica, but being that we're not prone to much inhibition in the first place, the dialogue normally goes from thumb-wrestling to blood-curdling assault in a matter of a few posts. Perhaps that's why we have so enthusiastically adopted social media. You can tell a bwoy pretty much anyting, and without consequence. And we do.

Now while I'm sure many people absorb the content with the understanding that there's not too much quality control, I'm sure there are equally many who don't pause to reflect that what they're seeing doesn't reflect normality. And I wonder if the ambient surrounding of trash doesn't also have an effect on even the most discerning and self-aware consumer.

I have myself felt significantly morally corrupted by just scrolling through a chat thread or two and taking note of how skilfully the various posters blast each other, impugn the integrity of the other's mother, and ascribe deviant desires and practices to anyone even reading the thread (de whole ah unnuh yasso is a bunch ah @#$&).

Remember, Old Media was to exercise far greater quality control, or that was the theory. Now we see social media content being eagerly repackaged by Old Media. I'm not condemning the practice, but I do wonder if there shouldn't be at least a verifiable name attached to some of what is read out on the television or the radio. In this great cauldron of debate, shouldn't people stand up behind their publicly expressed views?

I think the blending of anonymous social media comments into the mainstream news and reporting poses some issues about how we, the audience, ought to receive the content. The conventions and rules governing these media are so different. At the very least, I think more established media might do their audience the courtesy of explaining how they select what to highlight and broadcast, and what boundaries they observe in making those choices.

We are in the midst of a fascinating experiment.

Years ago, those with a benign (that is, uninformed and un-Christian) view of human nature might have argued mightily that if you created a space where people could debate without constraint, a perfectly democratic conversation would emerge.

That is emphatically not what has happened. Instead, an enormous trash pile has been constructed, but one, it must be admitted immediately, with countless charms and endless diversions. Which is to say: I myself am sometimes a fan of the social media world, but it's a dirty guilty pleasure.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.