9 August 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The proportion of attention commanded in recent weeks by instances of serious abuse of the social networking media has prompted renewed calls for tighter regulation of this proliferating channel of modern communication.

When young people take their own lives having been subjected to online bullying, and when others are targeted by messages threatening physical and sexual violence, demands for stricter controls of the platforms used, and punishment for the perpetrators of such vile abuse, are understandable.

The nature of social media, however, makes the conventional system of checks and balances applied to how views and information are disseminated in society largely ineffective and anachronistic.

Aside from the difficult ethical questions concerning freedom of speech and censorship, which tend to sidetrack the implementation of preventative remedies, the remedies recommended never seem that efficacious.

The infinity of cyberspace is problematic to police – and those who use its precincts to bully or abuse can often do so pseudonymously and hide effectively in the shadows from detection and prosecution.

It is not, however, a lawless place – those who abuse it might do so in the assumption of freedom from accountability, but, as the use of harassment protection legislation to initiate prosecutions of those suspected of abuse on the microblogging medium of Twitter this week illustrates, the authorities are not powerless to act.

And, as is frequently brought home to us in both mundane and serious ways in the news, all Internet activity leaves a thread of traceability that can be followed to its source.

Despite this, the nature of the way we participate in digital communication – and the way in which its features have been promoted by its main providers – can fashion an alluring illusion that its use liberates us from the social codes and restraints that face-to-face interaction dictates.

The majority of social networking participants recognise this illusion for what it is, as the cultivation of a code of etiquette, dictated as much by the users themselves as by the providers of networking sites, has demonstrated.

But there is ultimately no ‘fitness to practice’ test that people have to pass before they can access the media concerned – and it has been seized on by the bully and the misogynist as an outlet for their nasty work, and has become a propagating ground for all sorts of virulent opinion.

As a collective, the overwhelming majority of responsible users can deal very effectively with such behaviour when it surfaces by assigning the perpetrators pariah status and removing them from their circle of communication.

But in instances where threatening and abusive behaviour becomes targeted at a particular person, the virtual world of global interaction can suddenly become a very lonely and dangerous place.
In such cases the means open to an abused individual to have the behaviour stopped and addressed appear alarmingly inadequate.

The major social networking arenas seem to have been built on the utopian assumption that their users would behave impeccably – the mechanisms in place for dealing with complaints and tackling abuse are deeply deficient.

Initial flaws in this aspect of the networks’ operation were understandable – but how many more tragedies have to occur, how many more people have to endure sometimes appalling abuse, before the efficacy of response is improved?

It remains extremely difficult to communicate complaints to those running social networking sites and have them dealt with expeditiously when that communication is established.

The self-regulation practised by responsible users has limits to the protection it can offer the victimised – and were regulations imposed by outside authorities the providers of the sites concerned would surely invoke the spectre of Big Brother interference to resist them.

The providers of social networking sites must do a great deal more to protect those who use them from injurious and unacceptable communications.

We are in the midst of a major ‘shop window’ time for our farming sector.
The agricultural show circuit is in full swing, with this week’s Castleblayney Show and its Tydavnet counterpart later this month providing positive testimony of the vibrancy and diversity of a sector of production that still remains an essential one to the economy and social fabric of our county.
August is traditionally one of the busiest of months on our farms – and also one of the most potentially dangerous.
We give prominence this week to an instructive message from the farm advisory service Teagasc that urges adherence to important safety principles.
We urge all those working in the agricultural sphere in our county at this time, and those who may have occasion to visit farmyards, to given these careful attention.
Serious accidents and fatalities are relatively rare on Irish farms but they still occur too frequently to be acceptable.
Those who make their living from the land are rarely complacent about the hazards associated with their activities.
But the heightened use of farm vehicles at this time of year, the presence of children on school holidays and the diminishing visibility that comes with the shortening evenings form seasonally-specific factors that demand heightened vigilance.
Hopefully Teagasc’s timely advice will reinforce good practice sufficiently to ensure that this summer remains a safe one on our county’s farmsteads.

Our senior footballers may have narrowly failed to overcome the challenge of Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park on Saturday, but they are still the pride of Monaghan.
An inevitable sense of deflation ensued when the joy at Monaghan’s historical Ulster Final win was so quickly followed by disappointment.
But the feel-good factor bequeathed us by that epic achievement shouldn’t be allowed to wither.
Monaghan remain a force to be reckoned with in Ulster football, and, with a depth of young talent in their squad and an inspirational helmsman in manager Malachy O’Rourke, they have surely the potential to emulate their weekend conquerors and become a perennial presence in the All-Ireland shake-up.
We should not linger overmuch on the refereeing decision debates or the brouhaha about cynical play that provided the media pundits with a platform for their pontificating in the aftermath of the Tyrone clash.
That’s over and done with now – but where Monaghan football is concerned, there is every reason to believe that the best is yet to come.

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