Last weekend, Sonja McLaughlan – a reporter for BBC Sport – was hit with a barrage of abuse on Twitter for her interviews following the England-Wales Rugby international – see here and here. The BBC, and others, rightly defended her and have also pointed out that ‘abuse for doing your job is not OK’. This struck a chord with the Badger because last week he was horrified to see many abusive and defamatory comments appear on a social media platform in response to a post applauding Chris Whitty – the UK’s Chief Medical Officer – for his work during the pandemic. That social media platform was not Facebook. Nor was it Twitter. It was LinkedIn.
The Badger, who is always careful about what he contributes on social media platforms, decided to conduct an experiment. He posted a comment to the LinkedIn Chris Whitty thread simply pointing out that it was a sad day for society and LinkedIn itself when abusive and defamatory comments are made about a man who is just doing his job! The comment triggered a response suggesting that the vast majority agreed, but it also triggered a higher ‘rant return’ than the Badger expected! ‘Welcome to your professional community’ is the strapline on the landing page to login to LinkedIn on the web. The word ‘professional’ implies a community that upholds standards and respect. We should remember this when contributing on this platform if we want to preserve its value.
Everyone, of course, is entitled to air their opinions, but the Badger this should be done respectfully and never in an abusive or defamatory manner. Social media platforms in general have become part of the personal critical infrastructure of many people, but they cause enormous problems in the realms of proliferating hate, manipulation, misinformation, and so on. Trolling is everywhere, and, as the Center for Countering Digital Hate has neatly summarised, society faces many challenges in the online world. Simon Jenkins recent Guardian article entitled ‘Chris Whitty’s abuse is a symptom of social media out of control’ also makes many points about social media that are hard to disagree with. When it is not okay to abuse footballers on the football field, to abuse a colleague in the workplace, to be discriminatory, to write salacious things that are unlawful in newspapers, why do we tolerate the opposite on social media platforms? The answer is simple; we shouldn’t. Free speech – which existed in Western democracies way before the advent of social media platforms – is not an argument for the rampant abuse and the defamation of anyone.
The key word in LinkedIn’s ‘Welcome to your professional community’ is professional. If you cannot express your contributions and opinions respectfully then it rather suggests that you, and possibly the company you represent, are part of the problem. Think before you write, never write before you think!