Social media phenomenon goes sour and debate begins

THE scrutiny applied to social media has intensified this week following details reported in the wake of the murder of Bacchus Marsh woman Sarah Cafferkey.

In Ballarat yesterday, a magistrate lashed out at the negative aspects of Facebook in handing down a sentence to a man involved in a shooting incident in Wendouree earlier this year.

Both incidents are examples of where connections on the social media phenomenon went sour.

It’s an aspect of modern life that is not readily understood and too often finishes in disastrous circumstances.

Thoughts that once were private become irretrievable.

Posts on Twitter and Facebook connect people who have never met and in ways that have changed lives.

While law enforcement and the courts are well aware of the pitfalls and are increasingly vocal about the potential for harm, the message is difficult to communicate. 

Magistrate Peter Couzens is one who has made his thoughts clear.

He did so in a Ballarat court yesterday: “This court daily deals with cases involving this wretched form of media called Facebook.

 It may be that Facebook provides some positive communications . . . but it has clearly got extraordinarily negative aspects to it and this is one of them.”

And it is a conduit for debate.

Yesterday, Facebook’s public “R.I.P Sarah Cafferkey” page has more than 27,700 ‘likes’.

Many posters mourned the death of a beautiful young woman they never knew, while others voiced despair that the tragedy came soon after the September rape and murder of Brunswick woman Jill Meagher.

Others, though – as with Ms Meagher’s case – wanted blood as soon they had a suspect’s name.

Many users, particularly young people, do not use mainstream media or traditional forms of communication.

They are more savvy than many lawmakers give them credit for.

But they are also naive.

The message that leaders such as Mr Couzens are selling is being consumed by the converted and therein lies a great problem – it is far more difficult to educate the unconverted on the dangers that may lurk in the bowels of Facebook and Twitter.

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