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Andrea Martin-Swaby | Social media - think before you post

Published:Friday | October 21, 2016 | 12:00 AMAndrea Martin-Swaby

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, FaceTime, and WhatsApp have become the primary means of communication in the 21st century. Voice over IP has nearly replaced the need to use cellular minutes. Many have argued that data plans and wireless connections have almost made the need for landline connections obsolete. Today, the more important connection for many is the one that gives access to ones and zeros and allows fast and easy access to cyberspace.

Even the way we research academic and non-academic content has been overtaken by the accessibility of information in the world of ones and zeros. Google, Bing and other instantaneous search engines have removed the need to flip through page upon page of encyclopaedias and books to gather pertinent information. Books in PDF formats, research papers, and journals are all within reach of those who can click a button on a digital screen.

This should come as no surprise, as noted special commentator Alvin Toffler, in his seminal piece, The Third Wave, from as early as 1980 spoke on the increasing role communications would play in the development of our society and the impact it would have on our human interaction as our society evolved through the increasing use of technology.

Today, like never before, persons are able to express their views to the wider public via online comment columns on topical issues. Through this medium many post their personal views on varied topics for many to see. The convenience and capabilities are endless, and the user the better for it.

Persons publish their talent in poetry, playing music, and singing on sites such as YouTube, and create web pages and blogs to advertise their business ventures.

Today on social media, posting is easy. Just click a button. This is good where the content edifies, where it exhibits a person's intellectual acumen, or where it highlights a hidden talent that may be beneficial to humankind.

However, where the content may appear unpalatable, and may have a negative impact on others, one must exercise discretion and restraint. For example, data in the form of still imagery or video recordings that contain gruesome images can be devastating for those who may have been personally impacted by the occurrences that created those images.

Social-media posts include images of crime scenes and persons who have met their unfortunate demise in motor vehicle accidents, and from other unfortunate circumstances. For those who are responsible for these posts, and its subsequent distribution, the image may mean nothing to them. However, for those who are personally impacted by the immediate horror, it may be viewed as an insensitive and careless act.

Additionally, we must consider that, over time, the repeated viewing and distribution of such images may serve to impair and potentially desensitise our collective social consciences to the baser aspects of our existence. In the same thread, this practice also facilitates and encourages some to unwittingly become purveyors of ghoulish behaviour and immortality.

Before posting, one should consider how this benefits society. Gruesome and graphic images are harmful, and we should be our brother's keeper in the digital world as in the natural world. Posting should be done with care and great discretion.

Let us use the Internet to share our talents.




A rule of thumb when posting personal images is to always protect thyself. Protect, protect, protect! The freedom to post, like any other freedom, comes with attendant responsibilities. Think carefully before you post. Each user must assess the personal content which is posted on social media and ask one's self whether too much personal information is exhibited for the world to see.

Can someone easily discover your present physical location; who your spouse is; what your children look like; where your children attend school; where you have been today, by virtue of the chronology of personal posts? What is the level of personal intelligence that is contained in your daily, sometimes hourly thread of posts?

It may be wise, in some instances, to delay posts, and for others to refrain from posting altogether in order to avoid being monitored on social media by unwelcome persons.

Personal photos and videos should be managed carefully.




Social-media groups such as instant messenger groups are useful and beneficial. They can be used as a means of updating participants on important school events, work-related deadlines and events, and for a lot of other good.

When posting, a good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, "Is it necessary? Is it appropriate for this forum?" To avoid offending, it is important to remain faithful to the purpose of the medium. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that posts and messages encourage healthy and productive communication. Most important, be respectful of your fellow participants within the group.

In this Cyber Awareness Month, let us post with care, exercise personal safety, and lead by example in our use of social media for the common good of all.

- Andrea Martin-Swaby is assistant director of public prosecutions, head, Cyber Crime and Digital Forensics Unit. Email feedback to