In the new normal, video clips of anything and everything can go viral. Some of this footage is heartwarming or harmlessly hilarious. At other times, what is captured on camera is disturbing, frightening and whips up anger. But, those of us watching and forwarding such video clips or so-called ‘reports’ must be more responsible. The public must STOP believing everything they read and see automatically. People must check the source, corroborate, verify and question everything they read, hear or see online. If the public does not do this, access to the internet will be lost. Those in power will eventually use the downside of freedom as an excuse to cripple, limit or control it. We must not let that happen.
Bullies and criminals wearing badges, uniforms, carrying weapons or holding office must look over their shoulders before acting out. This is a good thing. On the other hand, videos with no context, no verification and no commentary can violate someone’s civil rights.
What is the solution?
A public that stops acting like sheep is part of the solution. People must stop believing everything they see, hear or read as if it is the gospel truth. They must accept that some of what is floating around online is absolute crap. People must learn how to separate the junk from the truth and not react or spread anything until they do.
The racist police officer’s video with his knee on George Floyd’s neck forced justice to be done that otherwise might have been ignored.
Not a week goes by when some video doesn’t go viral and spreads across Namibia. And yet, it can be footage that is pieced together by someone wishing to throw shade on another person. It can be footage that is years old or from another country. It is technologically possible to put someone else’s face onto another body in such footage. Dates and locations can be falsified. Audio can be created and inserted into the video. Many people do memes where these audio over-dubs are hilariously funny. And yet, a few do memes that are malicious and hurtful.
We all need to step up our game when it comes to understanding technology. Believing something just because it is on social media is as useful as black and white television, VCRs and pay telephone booths.
In national crises, authoritarian rulers shut down the internet first. Recall the military shooting of Nigerian unarmed protestors last year. Officials swore brazenly that nothing happened. They said no one was killed or arrested. They denied that there was ever a shooting. They silenced or isolated all witnesses. The videos soon emerged on the military shooting, wounding, and killing its own citizens on social media. That footage exposed the lie and arguably saved lives as people arrested to be silenced, were released without charge.
Freedom of speech is not always clear. Recently Donald Trump’s Twitter and other social media accounts were cancelled or suspended. For years, his words have led to death, injury, division, anger, insults, lies and outrage. The owners of these private media platforms finally acted to clip his wings. We cheer this. A criminal has been slapped down.
At the same time, silencing anyone presents a problem. What happens when someone doesn’t like what we write or say? What if political or financial pressure is brought to bear for social media platform owners to silence people for subjective reasons. It is scary that private billionaires can decide to shut someone up by withdrawing their access to their services. There is no oversight, arbitration, trial, independent adjudication, or platform to appeal such decisions.
All that said, virtual hall monitors, must patrol the internet. They must never judge what is being said, but follow international laws for each situation they face. Social media must never be limited, regulated, or controlled by anyone. No human being is always fair, humane, objective or right. Political or religious agendas, egos, profits, jealousy and criminal activities will eventually drive internet silencing. Trump is where it starts, where does it end?
Remember our own liberation struggle. To us, our heroes were freedom fighters. To the apartheid apologists, they were terrorists.
If we limit freedom of speech in any way, only those in power will define ‘truth’ for the rest of us.
In 2021 and beyond, we all must be prepared to be filmed at any time; it is the new normal. Another new normal must be people not believing and spreading whatever they hear or read or see online before checking it out.