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The mob mentality

Engulfed by red. The flame flickers beneath two feet. Hands tied, wrapped around a pole — a witch trial. Accusations and questions taken to the extreme: no basis, no evidence, no truth.

Social media has birthed the ‘cancel culture’ and society today has gone wild, hosting their own trials online. Should our modern day Salem society have the power to dictate the lives of the digitally accused?

With social media being a voice for those who didn’t have it, a vast majority of the population shares their ‘words of wisdom’. Ranging from their favourite music, films and food to political debates, promoting products or general celebration — social media is a platform to share. Yet some share too much.

Various studies carried out in the West show 66 per cent of people agree that social media has become a platform full of mistrust with people sharing hate rather than the typical cat clip. Using that voice to scream and not sing is becoming a frequent occurrence — and my ears hurt.

With social media presenting an opportunity, society today has taken to their keyboards to call out, accuse and criticise others regardless of proof. The greatest issue with social media is that baseless accusations made against someone can dictate and decimate their futures.

Take my hypothetical friend, ‘Bob’; with a case thrown out of court, he was found innocent and free to go after tax fraud allegations. To his dismay, he was fired from his previous job, after a raging mob of ‘keyboard warriors’ — unjustifiably — deemed him guilty. He was left alone and without an income, now incapable of ever finding even the simplest of jobs. He could never return to his old reality because some strangers deemed him unworthy. He was rejected from society.

Power truly lies at the tip of one’s fingers, but social media should not be an outlet to abuse such power. With our world revolving around the internet, comments and accusations can stain a person’s reputation — like the injustice seen with the hypothetical Bob. The influence social media can have upon our day-to-day lives is dangerous, too dangerous to be available without limitations and too powerful not to be restricted. Laws and rules keep our society stable, and yet why does this not apply to one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal?

Social media’s potency can lead to world-changing events. In 2017, the #MeToo movement began; a revolutionary trend in which sexual abuse victims came out to share their suffering. According to several national US surveys, one in four women in USA have been subjected to attempted rape or rape during their lifetimes and #MeToo was an opportunity to address the pain, acknowledge and empower the victims of such horrific acts. It was necessary.

Regardless of the righteous acts brought about by social media against atrocities, movements like the #MeToo or BLM are outnumbered by campaigns of false accusations. Sometimes, even well-meaning and genuine trends can be weaponised and misused against innocent people. Although the movements are necessary and needed and good, they do not excuse the relentless injustices that suffocate innocent people like Bob on a daily basis.

Social media requires rules. But silencing people is wrong, and should not be proposed. There must be a way to stop false claims without inhibiting those with genuine affairs. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid passing judgement on social media, as words speak volumes to those who can make or break a person’s future endeavours.

My proposal is to hold people accountable for their actions on social media. Similar to that of a journalist, users should be liable to claims of libel or at least made to be more accountable for their words. We cannot make claims and accusations in the public domain without fear of repercussion; why should it be any different online? This way, we help ‘Bob’ and the many like him to avoid vilification in the public eye — while enabling those with valid claims to help our tarnished world.

Social media also needs restrictions. Whether it comes in the form of accountability, or general guidelines; to save others like ‘Bob’ and to ensure they have a fair trial — things must change. Social media can be an opportunity to nurse a sick world back to health, but the general public should never act as judge, jury and executioner. Accusations and questions can be taken to the extreme.

We have the wood collected, and sometimes we are willing to light it. But should we as a society hold these ‘witch trials’ against the accused? Salem was wrong, and so are we.

The writer is a student of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Blackburn.