It is a tragic irony that, under the hastily erected canopy of ‘media freedom’, the clamour to expose the identity of a Premier League footballer may only serve to degrade the personal freedoms enjoyed by the very people who chipped away at its edifice tweet by tweet by tweet.
But, really, was this about democracy, freedom and rights?
Or was it simply the market for voyeuristic satisfaction, tawdry self-publicity and self-aggrandisement in motion?
The mob doesn’t think
I’m sure I won’t be the only person wheeling out the line of Joe Wilson – played by Spencer Tracy – in Fritz Lang’s Fury: ‘The mob doesn’t think. It has no mind of its own.’ but that’s because there’s precious little evidence that it did.
But what I will say is that, while people may have thought they were – in some way – championing the cause of a right to know, I’d argue that they were actually engaged in the polar opposite: cannibalising their own right to privacy.
That aside, there is another societal aspect to this episode which is deeply worrying.
It disturbs me that the advent of real-time technologies, like Twitter, are leading to episodes of a kind-of collective attention deficit disorder.
In our haste to express our perspective, often complex circumstances are whittled down to a 140 characters; quite literally, belittling a topic or issue or event.
For example, does it occur to us that the Arab Spring is symptomatic of the clash of liberal capitalist models of democracy with theocratic Islamic thinking? Is that worth a tweet? Or do we simply say ‘Yea! Go for it #egypt’?
Do we take a moment to read and consider the way in which Mr Justice Eady’s judgment sought to balance the competing demands of Articles 8 and 10 of the Human Rights Act before upholding the decision to apply an injunction protecting the privacy of a footballer?
Or am I alone in thinking that, as individuals, we are simply paying insufficient attention to the details and background of an issue to form an informed opinion, and bleating our half-cocked views, which suit our prejudices, anyway?
Is our desire for attention the source of self-centred or smart-alec tweets in pursuit of an rise in our mentions and retweet equity – with its potential to boost our PeerIndex or Klout, or even follower count?
And, crucially, is this desire beginning to erode values that, prior to the advent of the social web, we seemed to pay more attention to? Like respect for other people’s privacy, for instance?
Quantities versus qualities
I wonder if, in this clamour for the quantities of life, are we losing our grip on its qualitiesand compromising our ability to aspire to qualities that are socially desirable as a consequence of it?
Because it strikes me that the law doesn’t exist solely to protect us from harm and disorder; it also exists to protect us from ourselves.
The desire to demolish another individual’s rights to a private family life – a right which is specifically catered for in the UK’s Human Rights Act and European Convention – seems not only to show contempt for the law but also to other people’s fundamental right to privacy.
Far from being social, that is little more than anti-social isn’t it?
Our rights may be fundamental but they are not absolute. They depend on the attention and respect we pay to each other’s right to dignity and privacy. The moment we seek to deny an individual of their rights – regardless of popular opinion – we leave our own dignity and respect open to abuse.
The argument that, simply because technology has the capacity to achieve an outcome, can never be an adequate justification for its abuse. In fact it’s an abdication of responsibility that’s tantamount to claiming that it’s the trigger, and not the person holding it, that fires the bullet.
Regardless of technology’s potential, it is always an individual – or groups comprising individuals – that bring its potential to life.
If it wasn’t for my, generally, positive experience of encountering other individuals on Twitter, I would have deleted my account this morning.
As it is, the jury’s now out for me.