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Social media enables crimes, finger-pointing

Tyler Smith, Opinion Writer
May 8, 2013
Filed under Opinion, Top Stories

Social media keeps rising and its influence reaches not only basic users, but reaches journalistic practices as well as advertising. And this technology is in the hands of idiots.

According to CNBC guest writer Pat Calhoun, senior vice president of network security for McAfee, we are not competent in our utilization of cyber security. We use too few different passwords for multiple accounts and most are too simplistic, Calhoun said. The relevance of our incompetence revealed itself when the Associated Press fell prey to a hack, and the false tweet of our president being injured led to a temporary drop in the Dow, he said.

Overall, we are careless at protecting our information online. In terms of being required to handle valuable data, messing up is not an option. However, why in the heck did a brief hack such as this lead to the stock market temporarily dropping?

According to Calhoun, money movers at Wall Street use Twitter for checking market news to aid in decision making.

Twitter doesn’t just play a role in stocks though. People who seem to feel they are master detectives have potentially hindered investigations and stuck their fingers out at the wrong person.

CBS News writer Janet Davison said social media users took to Reddit and 4chan to propose their own ideas and speculations on potential suspects during the Boston Marathon bombing. According to Davison, this in turn led to an individual named Sunil Tripathi’s identity trending online in connection to the attacks. This identity crisis even brought Tripathi’s family into the media light as news crews arrived at their doorstep, Davison said.

The feds wanted help from any and all individuals who could provide photos, video or any valuable information on this tragedy. That’s great and wonderful, but when a bunch of anonymous Internet surfers take it upon themselves to try and not only conduct justice, but lead an investigation, something is going to go wrong.

Sure these people had no right, and were dumb for pointing the finger at all, but it’s human nature. So where’s the excuse for the media that thought it intelligent in any form to run with hearsay and interrogate the family of an individual who proved to be innocent?

Twitter and other social media sites are great and powerful tools for raw information. They can be wonderful resources, but I’m never going to cite Wikipedia. Sure it can serve as a platform, as can Twitter’s slush of both relatively intelligent and purely stupid posters, but what news group doesn’t follow up with a more credible source beforehand?

According to writer Terri Judd of The Independent, a UK news publication, sleuths of the web could create issues for themselves if they don’t tread lightly.

“Facebook and Twitter users will face lengthy jail sentences if they defy court orders banning publication of information, one of the country’s most senior judges has ruled,” Judd said.

There was a recent case where two individuals got into serious trouble for doing their own online snooping, Judd said. Dean Liddle and Neil Harkins were held in court for publishing photos of who they originally believed to be the murderers of a two-year-old, Judd said. According to him, this was in violation of a law against supplying the protected individuals’ identities.

Granted this issue arose in the UK, but it still holds relevance here. The average citizen is not a master detective. Having a Twitter or Facebook account and access to all of the photos of an event such as the bombings in Boston is not enough to solve a crime, Throwing around unenlightened information is detrimental to everyone involved, including the victims and the prosecutors attempting to do their jobs.

Furthermore, this type of mentality could dangerously lead to further vigilante-justice mentalities. There are regulations in place to ensure the sensitive handling of identities and posting the photo of even the correct child murderer could lead to his or her family being victimized and having to relive the horrors all over again, or worse, an accusation of the wrong party. Mistakes like this under heated pressure are not affordable.

According to Time writer Charlie Campbell, we are also wholly inaccurate even when we do have the correct suspects’ identities. In his article, Campbell said the Czech embassy itself had to help clarify the misunderstanding of basic geography.

“So much vitriolic anti-Czech sentiment was aired online that one Tumblr user compiled a ‘shame list’ of erroneous hateful comments,” Campbell said. “And it was not only social media users getting confused; a former CIA agent commenting on the manhunt for CNN also got the two territories mixed up live on air.”

Social media is not the issue. We are.

I believe in its capacity to do great good and be exceptionably useful in collaborative work such as the police clarifying rumors spreading about a tragedy or simply easier news articles for everyday access. Companies, and the individuals employed, are partly to blame for hacks though.

Calhoun said the potential takeover of AP’s Twitter feed was allegedly due to a seemingly innocent email from parties whose names were trusted. The employees who were in possession of valuable data fell victim by clicking links embedded within these emails, Calhoun said.

Mostly, I just think people are too inept to appropriately handle something as interconnected and heavy as social media. Too much weight and measure is being placed on this medium and the news especially needs to learn that jumping the gun on fast information without fact sourcing is credibility-suicide.

People don’t realize that their speculating during a disaster could be a small match that lights the first torch in a mob. Playing detective online instead of just offering the information police and news agencies need to conduct a proper, professional investigation can lead to the wrong people being persecuted.

We have this shiny new toy that we just can’t seem to grow tired of yet and want to use in not new and exciting ways, but rather rely on in terms of older methods, thinking it’s omniscient. Well, it’s not. Google is the oracle of our age.