I am pretty sure that most of you have now probably seen the video clip on YouTube titled ‘My Tram Experience’, which shows a young woman spewing racial abuse at her fellow commuters whilst travelling on a tram between Croydon and Wimbledon. Whilst she is launching her vile attack she has a little boy, presumably her son, sitting on her lap looking completely bewildered at what is going on around him. Thanks, in part, to the power of various social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the video clip went viral almost instantly and the woman in question was later arrested by the British Transport Police.
However, is the use of social media in this way always such a good thing? I mean, I am all for the woman getting what she deserves (perhaps some education to rid her of her ignorance should be chucked in too just for good measure), but you just have to examine the role that social media played in the riots that occurred in London and various other cities over the summer to see that the power of social media can also also be a cause for concern.
Let’s discuss this in a little more detail.
Firstly, let’s examine the role that social media played in the London riots. Now, before I continue I just want to say that in my opinion social media wasn’t the cause of the riots and I completely agree with Jared Cohen of Google Ideas when he said that social media was ‘an accelerant’ not a trigger for such events. Social media enabled rioters to connect with other rioters who they otherwise wouldn’t have met, and it provided them with a sense of ‘community’. It made them feel like they were not acting alone and were part of a larger revolt or movement, thus avoiding being singled out and punished. Ultimately, it made it easier for rioters and looters to justify their actions because they were under the illusion that ‘everyone was doing it’. All of this was the result of many social media users voicing their opinions, which stirred up tension, and it was also the result of users posting information about their behaviour online.
Now let’s discuss the uprisings in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. Here the death of Khaled Said, like the death of Mark Duggan in London, led to the creation of a Facebook page that ultimately fuelled the subsequent protests. Whilst riots and protests have been happening way before the world became obsessed with social media as a prominent communications platform, there is no arguing that social media now enables people to coordinate specific activities in specific areas. However, as previously mentioned, such events can also be fuelled by the fact that people post about their behaviour on social media sites such as Twitter.
Finally, this brings us back to the week’s top viral video ‘My Tram Experience’, which can be analysed in two ways. Firstly, the fact that the woman featured was arrested and charged as swiftly as she was is arguably a good thing. However, I am sure that the effects of her actions will be felt for much longer than it takes for the fickle world of social media to move on to something else. I mean, you just have to do a quick search on Twitter to read some of the comments that have been posted in relation to the woman’s behaviour. Some users are calling for her little boy to be taken away from her, others are saying that she should be severely punished and some are even calling for her to be locked up.
In my opinion all of these suggestions are a tad extreme. Now, don’t get it twisted; I am in no way condoning her behaviour (racism sucks ass!), but I am wondering what effect this incident will have on her life in the long run. For example, just say that later on down the line she admits that she was wrong, will she be allowed to move on or will she always be known as the racist woman from ‘that YouTube video’? Obviously she should have considered this before she launched such a disgusting attack on fellow passengers, but it is foolish of people to think that these are just the opinions of one individual. They are not! However, is arrest or prison really the best way to deal with such strong opinions? Surely the best thing to do is to uncover the reason why people like this woman feel the way that they do in the hope that opinions like this are prevented from being passed down from generation to generation, which they usually are.
I think media in general definitely has a part to play in the spreading of things like this video, although not as large as social media, because news reports on television and articles in newspapers cover what has been said on social media platforms in almost an hysterical way. However, the advantage that social media has over regular media is that it is always on and ‘real-time’ in a way that television is not.
Although social media can be utilised in a positive way, for example the clean-up projects that started after the riots in London and other cities were largely coordinated through social media platforms, it can also be used in a negative way. I think the key does not lie in regulating social media networks, but rather in examining and addressing the reasons why people feel the need to behave in such negative ways.
In a way, social media is often just a symptom of the actual disease.