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Social Media Quick To Push You Off The Cliff

Cliff Richard Is The Latest Star To Suffer Online Wrath

In the wake of the underage abuse scandal, Cliff Richard is the latest high-profile name to be fending off an allegation of child sex abuse, but it seems in the eyes of the online community – where a fair trial is rarely offered – he has already been deemed guilty.

The singer strongly denies the allegation, which dates back to the 1980s and involved a boy under the age of 16, stating that it is ‘completely false’. Police searched Richard’s home this week whilst he was away on his annual family holiday in Portugal. 

Allegations have been circling around the singer for a while now, triggered in no small part by the recent abuse scandal that has surrounded fellow entertainers Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris, but Richard assured reporters that ‘up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen’.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the harsh and quick tempered public arena of social media, Twitter users have once again jumped the gun in assuming Richard’s guilt.

The dangers of social media – essentially word of mouth fuelled by technology – is that it can as quickly tarnish a name as it makes one. Once a stigma has been set, it cannot be unsaid or forgotten; in many cases it verges on the libelous.

The online Twitter and Facebook communities are quick to round on figures of public interest. Facts and objectivity are rarely taken into account and it seems that social media can descend into the form of gossip and everyday conversation. Except, this isn’t quite everyday conversation; behind the privacy and anonymity of a computer screen, people are more inclined to say what they feel and in no uncertain terms. Whereas face to face communication leans on body language, tone of voice and gestures (only 7% of communication is expressed through words), online these nonverbal signifiers are obsolete.

Twitter uses have failed to heed previous lessons in declaring the guilt of a celebrity under criminal investigation – Richard is just the latest to suffer premature abuse. One of the earliest examples of a Twitter defamation gone wrong was when the Speaker’s wife, Sally Bercow, along with comedian Alan Daves, tweeted comments implying that Tory peer Lord McAlpine was a paedophile.
Bercow tweeted: "Why is Lord McAlpine trending? *innocent face*"

The tweet was in reference to BBC and ITV accusations that McAlpine was a paedophile - an ultimately false statement which saw McAlpine's reputation destroyed online. As a result, both TV broadcasters had to pay six-figure fees in damages.

This latest controversy raises further questions for Twitter regarding its involvement in the spread of libelous and offensive content. Despite his not being formally charged by police yet, the singer’s name was mentioned in over 25,000 social media discussions last Thursday.

A minority of users, disgusted by the nature of the comments directed at the singer, jumped to his defence. 

@Bethemediauk offered a timely reminder that it's: "worth pointing out that in the UK you are innocent until proven guilty #cliffrichard"

As ever, the ethics and management of social media has proven ambiguous and uncontrollable – the free-speech and uncensored opinions of social media are in the interests of democratic principles, but at times they cross this line and fall into precisely their opposite. Compared to the stringently monitored and audited legal and police systems in the country, the Wild West free-for-all of Twitter and Facebook and the like seem to transcend these rules.

Recent graduate and now interning as content editor, when she's not writing articles Katie can quite likely be found festival-ing, holiday-ing or reading a book (dedicated English student that she is). Follow her @KatieAtSMF.

Contact us on Twitter, on Facebook, or leave your comments below. To find out about social media training or management why not take a look at our website for more info http://socialmediacambridge.co.uk/.
Social Media Quick To Push You Off The Cliff Reviewed by Anonymous on Monday, August 18, 2014 Rating: 5
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