ocial media platforms and instant messaging applications have changed the way people interact. While the use of these technologies has its benefits, the instant gratification and dissemination power, thereof, is whetting the appetite of more and more people bent on causing harm or distress to others.
Voice notes and WhatsApp postings have become an extremely popular and potent medium for information sharing in The Bahamas as it has the world over for hundreds of millions of users. Users have a wide and immediate audience to whatever they wish to say with potentially devastating effects when one decides to defame, shame or bully.
This type of behavior has become commonplace in our society, bolstered by the relative anonymity social media platforms can provide. On any given day, barrages of WhatsApp messages or Facebook postings feature people being attacked, maligned or harassed by an increasingly pernicious segment of our population.
So commonplace are attacks, via these platforms, that public officials are now demonstrating comfort with engaging in this deleterious activity; the latest of which was heard in a viral posting by the registrar of contractors in the Ministry of Works.
The registrar’s allegations against the director of works, a senior public officer of exemplary standing, prompted the minister of works to come to her defense. Weeks earlier, the country was audience to the viral diatribe of Water and Sewerage board member Bennett Minnis.
In both cases, the government did not indicate how the actions of these public officials would be addressed – an ironic contrast given that when government ministers have become the victim of social media attacks in recent times, they have beckoned to the Royal Bahamas Police Force for assistance, condemning the use of social media for defamation and the spreading of “fake news”.
The damaging use of social media by more and more Bahamians has created a mounting challenge for law enforcement, according to Senior ACP Stephen Dean, who spoke to the matter during an appearance on a local radio talk show.
“We cannot say it enough; this is causing harm to individuals and panic,” he said. “People have lost their jobs based on what is put on social media; it has caused families to break up, so we are asking our people to be more responsible.
“Sometimes it turns on them and that’s when they want the police to work 24/7 to solve it.”
Though libel and slander laws exist in The Bahamas, many lack the resources or wherewithal to file suits against an offending social media user, particularly if the identity of the user is unknown or uncertain.
Since the public does not see a ready consequence for this kind of activity, it continues, almost unabated, leaving people in fear or further assaulted and prompting individuals to take unorthodox measures to attempt to protect themselves and their loved ones from abuse via social media sites.
Calls from various sectors have been made for legislation to address the modern realities of internet and social media usage. These calls are relevant.
But what cannot be legislated is morality, ethics and the collective conscience of a society.
Damaging uses of social media are encouraged when society tolerates it. We must develop a firm intolerance to assaults and harassment in all forms and recognize that malicious social media postings are weapons, with the use of those weapons being a form of violence.
We can become a part of the solution by refusing to be a conduit to the spread of such postings, as malicious postings cannot go viral if people do not share them with others.
And we must find a way to get back to a point of empathy and genuine concern for one another.