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EDITORIAL - Controversy in 140 characters

Published:Saturday | May 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Twitter chatter has placed the spotlight on Kingston Mayor Angela Brown Burke for what has been described as an offensive remark which she recently posted. Her followers were not shocked by the veiled suggestion of media bias in her tweet; however, it was her use of the F-word that raised the ire of many persons in social media and beyond.

Disgruntled members of the online community urged the mayor, who is also a member of the country's legislative body, to exhibit more decorum, at least, in a public setting.

Yet there are those who defended the mayor's tweet as a mountain-of-a-molehill controversy and raised freedom-of-expression concerns. They argue that everyone should be free to post whatever is on their mind, hopefully creating a buzz among online users.

With the huge expansion of 21st-century activism tools like Facebook and Twitter, more and more public officials are becoming entangled in controversy. It has happened in politics, the world of entertainment, business and sports where people post whatever is on their mind, often before considering how their opinions will be interpreted or the effect they will have on others. One explanation is that celebrities and politicians all want to appear human.

Should one remain mum or speak out on issues of national importance? The online community tends to have no sense of caution and is often irreverent in its utterances, even if these have to be crammed into 140 characters as demanded by Twitter. But one should also understand that when one takes to social media to spout an opinion, one is not merely sitting anonymously in a corner. Due regard has to be exercised for what is said about others and the way opinions are expressed.

As the controversy gathered steam, Mayor Brown Burke removed the tweet, possibly sensing that it was not a good idea to try to defend her inappropriate rant. She has also tendered a public apology for her offensive remark. But by then, the comments had gone viral. The mayor must be fully aware of the nature of the Twitter platform and the level of accessibility to all and sundry, including children.

But her tweet serves as a depressing reminder of how we communicate with each other these days. There is a grave lack of respect for each other and the principle of decency. And the mayor may already know that even those tweets that are deleted are, in fact, archived at the site Twitchy.com.

Love it or hate it, social media seems set to grow. It is estimated that if Facebook were a country, it would be the third-largest, just behind China and India. So whether you post, tweet, share or like on the Internet, understand that it is not private. Social media can do a great deal of good in stirring people into action for the common good.However, there is a dark side to social media as well. It is for users to try to strike that happy medium of respect for others, while seeking to express personal views.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.