The flow of information in social media never ceases to amaze us. Here’s some recent viral topics in social media: bullying of a university student by fellow students; of an elementary student in a shopping mall; the death of entertainment businessman Oka Mahendra; and the suicide of Chester Bennington, Linkin Park former vocalist.
On Facebook, Twitter, Path, or Instagram, all such cases have led to a barbaric courtroom.
A classic courtroom has a case, the accused, defendant, persecutor, and judge. In an ideal trial, everyone has his or her own rights and obligations. Everyone has a chance to talk, providing proof and reasoning in order to reach the truth.
Yet a social media’s barbaric courtroom follows the law of the jungle: “those who are strong will win”. Netizens will build a case around the latest viral “news” it, make their own trial, and become persecutor or defendant. Using their own values, both sides will declare whether the person in the case is guilty or not. Unfortunately, mostly convictions are not based on proof, discussion, or logical reasoning. Simply the numbers of likes, retweets, or followers decide the outcome.
Participants merely seek who’s wrong and who’s to blame. In the above bullying cases, most netizens automatically took the persecutor’s side, convict the “bully” for their crime, and dealt out punishment by -– ironically — bullying the accused.
In such cases scores of comments degrade, threaten and mock the bully in the name of justice and revenge. And whose comment is usually on top? Yes, the one with most likes, regardless of its ethical values or choice of words. As in the jungle, the strongest wins.
Worse, social media users love to judge everything.
In suicide cases it isn’t enough to see someone tragically died from suicide. Someone has to take the blame and in Oka’s case the netizens decided that the accused was the victim’s former lover.
Neither persecutors nor defendants had ever met the “victim” or the accused! They were just enjoying the “game” – based on a tragic death — where the goal is to gather as many supporters as they can to conquer the other team.
And then there was Chester Bennington. The former Linkin Park vocalist reportedly died of suicide by hanging at age 41. Both the victim and the accused was Bennington himself. One side of the world sent messages of sympathy to the family, while the other accused the victim of “being cowardly and irresponsible by leaving six kids behind”. I really have no idea about the advantage of blaming someone who has passed away.
Why do people play barbaric courtroom games? As they say, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. The combination of anonimosity and freedom of speech come at a cost — when the fingers are faster than the brain.
In real life, you will be very careful about what to say and do, because there is ‘the sense of being witnessed by others.
In social media, although netizens are talking to hundreds of people simultaneously, the sense of being witnessed is just not there. This leads to reckless, unecessary debate or premature judgment. Free speech turns into hate speech real quick.
Further, the worthy currency is the mere number of likes, shares, comments, retweets, and followers. Judging or defending others may result in the acquisition of the above currencies, which will activate the reward system in the brain.
Behavioral science states people will do the same thing over and over again to activate this reward system — this is called positive reinforcement. Hence, the short-term reward of judging someone to get approval defeats common sense and guilty conscience.
Behavioral science also explains one action can be stopped when it leads to undesirable outcome. When one is roasting others in real life, he or she may see the actual reactions in their faces. Sometimes, viewing sadness or anger may stop one from repeating further action. However, it’s difficult through social media to see the concrete consequences of one’s action or words. This leads to a premise that cyber bullying is considered more dangerous because it’s harder to brake once it has started.
If you’re planning to stop this barbaric courtroom, you’ll likely end up next on the defendant’s stump.
But it’s easy to be a smart user — never let your fingers work faster than your brain. “Think before you post” is the simplest yet hardest concept in social media. A viral post suggests us to consider THINK (Truth, Hurtful, Illegal, Necessary, Kind) before posting anything.
Social media is a not a courtroom, so do not play judge and persecutor.
Do remember that Indonesia amended the Electronic Information and Transaction Law in 2016. A response on a post can be proof of threat or hate speech. So, be a smart and responsible user. Do your best to avoid being a viral sensation or you might end up in barbaric courtroom of social media — or even worse, in an actual courtroom.