Twit­terati, take note: ev­ery­one is in­no­cent un­til proven guilty

Irish Independent - - Comment - Frank Cough­lan

WE HAVE to talk about Twit­ter. Not for the first time, like an un­ruly teenager that won’t lis­ten to com­mon sense or obey the rules, it’s been treat­ing its rights and priv­i­leges as if they were ab­so­lute and ir­re­versible.

I’ve been on Twit­ter about five years now and I’ve up­loaded my share of dumb tweets, a fair few I’ve sub­se­quently re­gret­ted, and been re­spon­si­ble for the oc­ca­sional witty one too (even if I do say so my­self).

But I’ve al­ways tried to stay within the looser bounds of what is con­sid­ered de­cent and fair in a civilised, tol­er­ant so­ci­ety.

Which brings me to a par­tic­u­lar hash­tag that grew legs and in­famy over the week­end and cast a net deep into un­charted wa­ters with lit­tle ac­count taken of the pos­si­ble con­se­quences.

I’m talk­ing about the #irish­we­in­steins thread which tossed around vague al­le­ga­tions about sex­ual abuse spiced with mal­ice and con­jec­ture to con­jure up hazy mugshots and pos­si­ble jig­saw iden­ti­fi­ca­tions of in­di­vid­u­als who, it goes with­out say­ing, had no come­back.

The Court of Twit­ter doesn’t have de­fence coun­sels, but it does have a res­i­dent jury of bay­ing knuckle-drag­gers.

It is dif­fi­cult to trace the DNA of any hash­tag that spreads like an Aus­tralian bushfire, but there were some well-in­ten­tioned peo­ple who should have known bet­ter sup­ply­ing it with cred­i­bil­ity, oxy­gen and en­cour­age­ment.

If any­one has un­re­solved is­sues or con­cerns about sex­ual in­tim­i­da­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion or worse in their pro­fes­sional lives – and we know there are still plenty of sleaze­bags out there – then they should in­deed de­mand jus­tice.

But smears, whis­pers, nods and winks on so­cial me­dia are not the way to go about get­ting res­o­lu­tion or clo­sure.

There are places where peo­ple can get sup­port, seek ad­vice. And we have gar­daí, we have a DPP, we have courts.

Th­ese are the routes. In a democ­racy, the only ones.

We also have a defama­tion law which, as every print and broad­cast jour­nal­ist is well aware, knows how to throw its weight about when prod­ded.

It’s per­haps time that those who wil­fully abuse so­cial me­dia got a tap on the shoul­der too.

Even though it is bor­ing, un­cool and, well, so ana­logue … ev­ery­one is in­no­cent un­til proven guilty. I know, what a drag.

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