Issue 2: March 2012

A DIGITAL SOAPBOX

By Professor Richard Kerley

As we reported previously in Scottish Policy Now, we are rapidly moving toward a digital society where most, if not all areas of the country will be able to use electronic communication and be in near constant, instant, contact with others many hours and miles away from them.

A better enabled Digital Scotland, with many more people and households involved will be a great development, but what is often overlooked – at least for most of the time – is that the digital world has a dark side – or perhaps several dark sides.

Most of us click on a URL or link to read a newspaper we haven’t bought in print or can’t buy where we live, buy a book, check the look and availability of some clothing, or book a ticket to somewhere and then check out what we can do when we get there.

Some of us – not me, but it might be you - click a link that enables some kind of illicit web based relationship, or the purchase of legal pornography of varying degrees of intensity.

Some of us click on a link to anonymously criticise, abuse, or just plain bully somebody else who has written something you don’t like in a newspaper. Some do so behind the cowardly disguise of anonymity.

Some of us – not me, but it might be you – click on a link to anonymously criticise, abuse, or just plain bully somebody else who has written something you don’t like in a newspaper. Some do so behind the cowardly disguise of anonymity. Of course that anonymity is often – laughably – cloaked in some extravagantly mock heroic name: Truthbringer, Wartiger, Plainspeaker. Actually I made up all three of these names, but just read the electronic version of most Scottish and English based newspapers to find similar fantasy lives. Of course, if you can’t be bothered, just look at the bottom of the letters page of The Scotsman to see a daily caravan of absurd web names rolled out.

At a time when Scotland is attracting international attention, there are reasons why this form of ‘web disguise’ is not healthy for public debate or for our society.

I normally read two major Scottish papers in print form, but I recently spent two separate weeks in time zones a long way away and 8 hours ahead of us, so after breakfast I was reading an electronic version where late night keyboarders were hammering away at the same time that I was reading.

I am never sure how much some of these electronic comments add to our knowledge and wisdom although clearly some do. I am however sure that: “ .. DANCE you little Tartan Cult ----------------------------------------[BTW I made a spelling mistake at cult there should be an N in it somwhere but I had pressed the post comment too soon.] “ does not actually do a lot to illuminate any debate about Scottish public life or the political process here.

Clearly this kind of stuff doesn’t do a lot to inform or uplift us, but what on earth does it say to those people interested in Scotland, who live elsewhere? Since we can no longer buy the major Scottish papers even at Kings Cross, I think it safe to assume that anyone reading them in Birmingham, Boston or Melbourne is reading their Herald and Scotsman on line. I suspect that if any US or Australian - our wherever - web reader saw some of this stuff he or she would be less than impressed and might even be glad that the grandparents actually left.

So the first and most obvious point is that the frantic late night keyboarding of some people just simply degrades public debate; in my view this kind of commentary doesn’t even merit the use of the term ‘debate’.

So the first and most obvious point is that the frantic late night keyboarding of some people just simply degrades public debate; in my view this kind of commentary doesn’t even merit the use of the term ‘debate’.

Another factor is that, as a report in recent papers about patient feedback on medical services described, the intended recipients of persistent, overstated, anonymous commentary just simply give up reading it, or they discount it as intentionally vindictive and therefore not worth addressing. A similar process is thought to be in play with Tripadvisor, where damage can be inflicted on featured businesses, without them actually reflecting on what is said because of the tone of malice that weighs heavily on some comments.

More tragically, in a recent Sunday paper there was a lengthy and sad report about the suicide of a young teenage woman persecuted and bullied anonymously on a web site – by other pupils. The degenerate adult who monstered her on the same site after her death was prosecuted and jailed. The classmates who were primarily responsible for the young woman taking her own life? Unknown but still guilty.

If you read the Scotsman regularly, you’ll know there are 3 men called Alex who appear frequently. One is the First Minister; the second thinks he is doing a marvellous job as First Minister; the third disagrees. The latter two writers don’t hide their names or their affiliations, and you can take them or leave them as you wish. If however you wish to know who is posting that late night comment on the recent speech by the First Minister or the opposition leaders in the parliament, then you have no way of knowing and no means of establishing either context or integrity.

What we now have in our main print media [Scotsman and Herald] are different stances on anonymity, as the Herald has recently asked commentators to use their proper registered name when posting comments on article.

I suppose that with this real life comparative experiment time will tell if, in some newspapers at least, cowardice only thrives with anonymity.

Richard Kerley , Editor

Read the above? Agree/disagree?

Your views are welcome , but tell us - and everybody else - your name.

scottishpolicynow@mackayhannah.com

By Professor Richard Kerley

Issue 2: March 2012

PREVIOUS ISSUES

Looking for a previous issue? Use the menu below to select an issue.