Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Moral Misadventures in Facebook

So, 2013 feels like the right time to return to this particular collection of thoughts and ideas. My adventuring in other forms of blogging (Facebook and Twitter) are through but my search for a place to share my more creative musings continues.

Facebook is, ironically, a faceless forum for people to form strange little circles of sycophants. I have been shocked by how cold and aggressive people can be when they are able to type whatever they want from the comfort of their soapbox-settees. How quickly they can turn on you. How little courtesy gets extended to their supposed 'friends' or even family.

My final adventure in Facebook saw me express my shock towards a “shameful witch-hunt” that shuddered across MY news feed. The people within these pages had taken it upon themselves to expose the identity of a pair of criminals whom the court had judged it 'just' to garb in the disguise of forgiveness and rehabilitation – the ‘boys’ who murder James Bulger in 1993. As I looked at the photographs that had been thrust upon me, I was struck by how dangerous this post was, and how immoral – even criminal. What if this 'out-ing' led to these people being beaten, or murdered? What if it caused their delicate world to come crashing down (again) and drove them down a criminal path, again? What if it isn’t even them at all and some innocent person is hurt because they were wrongly identified?

I was appalled by the post - it seemed illegal to me - and I expressed that I thought it was shameful and asked "what happened to forgiveness?" I was met with an attack that I did not expect. It left me feeling deeply sad.

I don't think I can be misunderstood here: I do NOT condone the actions of these murderers. Like everyone else, I am appalled by them, but I am also aware that these men were only children of ten themselves when they made this terrible choice. I believe they deserve to be extended, at least, a little compassion.

We live in a society that deems it just to spare criminals from the death penalty, and I believe in that choice. Our society judges that justice is best served through reformation and rehabilitation - a decision that is, obviously, open to discussion by legal and moral scholars. I choose to live in this society and abide its laws. If I disagreed with the choices made on my behalf, I have the right to object, or even leave the society, but I do not have the right to act upon my beliefs or perform any 'justice' of my own.

Socrates believed something very similar. He believed that by choosing to live within a society, a person agrees to a social contract that binds you to its values. By acting in an unprincipled way towards that society (breaking its rules) you do damage to it. Socrates accepted that he had left himself open to being accused by the people of the city by virtue of living in it; and even when presented with opportunities to escape from 'death row', he chose to face his punishment, and to continue to live – and die – according to the judgments of the society in which he lived. In short, he accepted the judgment of the courts even though he might not have agreed with them as he believed that was his duty. And so, he was executed (he actually administered the poison himself!)

When I challenged the people of Facebook to consider forgiveness, I was accused of being 'sanctimonious' and perhaps I was, but how can that be a bad thing in a world that is so full of moral-grey? Isn't it right that we should step forward and challenge the view that "them that shouts the loudest is the right-est"? I wasn't suggesting that I was superior to anybody else, I was asking others to think about what they thought 'forgiveness' meant.

More interesting that a few days ago, the BBC published an article suggesting that the Attorney general is taking legal action against ‘several people who published photographs’ of the two criminals (

The attorney general was keen to publicly remind media producers that there is a ‘worldwide injunction in place which prevents the publication of any images or information’ about the two. While it might be impossible to prevent such images finding a way on to the internet, the injunction certainly makes publishing them a criminal action itself.

If we are going to arm ourselves with the powerful weapons that the internet provides us – a power which can be far-reaching and deeply damaging – then we need to take moral responsibility for our actions.

The internet cannot be regulated or repressed like other, slower modes of communication, so we must be the ones who ensure that it is used for good. If I am sanctimonious for being aware of the moral obligation I have as a ‘digital media producer’, then I am sanctimonious. I hope you will join me upon my moral high-ground, because, in this case, I am sure I hold it.

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