Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Fame, Free Speech and Social Media

31 December 2020 by Nicholas in Current Events

In the US there are moves afoot to strip social media companies of protection for what people post on their platforms. I can’t help but feel that this will have massive unintended consequences but I am unsure what I feel about it. I am, at the very least, conflicted. This is partially because I have what verges on hatred for Facebook and partially I love the idea of people no longer being able to post lies with impunity. But I feel it dovetails and belongs in the debate about social media as a whole.

Today there has been outrage because Leeds United criticised an Amazon commentator for saying they were only promoted because of the break in football caused by Covid. This led to their fans piling on and accusations of misogyny. But should we protect people from debate that they invite? If you are trading on voicing an opinion and having a level of fame does society have a duty of care to you over the consequences?

In the last year I have read Jon Ronson’s “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” and I found it interesting and persuasive, but I do feel I have a different instinctive response to the author. If you post something in a public forum (like I am doing now) you have to accept you can’t control people’s responses to it or assumptions about you. The only way to protect yourself is to be private and not voice an opinion or give out information.

If you seek fame, there is a flip-side to it: the press you court will intrude at moments you don’t wish them to. You can’t seek to have a level of exposure and faux familiarity and then demand privacy when it no longer suits you. And you need to be prepared for the criticism, the scrutiny and the ridicule. What you will find is that everyone’s view on whether this is merited is dependent on their differences or alignment with you as much as it is the response that you have. I am as guilty as anyone about this, I find the criticism of someone I agree with to be pedantic and largely pathetic but will pile in on Owen Jones or Jeremy Corbyn as readily as anyone.

But will we still pile on in the same way in a more censored tomorrow? Will the stupidity and lies that cause us to pile on actually be exposed in the first place? Will conversation become more informed and civil or simply adhere to societally accepted norms and group think? Will going against the grain, no matter how urbanely and reasoned, become a thing of the past? And will “celebrities” still be able to shill and lie and will we call them out more or less for it?

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