Shame and silliness on social media

A young girl is crying piteously as saw-wielding adults file away at the wooden chair holding her captive at neck-level, while another weeping boy is wedged up to the waist.

By now, most Malaysian netizens have seen the pictures of young schoolchildren getting stuck in chairs on their first day of school.

Poor things! Aren’t you glad that photos from your first day of school don’t exist on the Internet?

There was a time when children could ‘safely’ experience awkward incidents like these and not have their misadventures broadcast to the world.

News of such (non-fatal) accidents would not leave the school compound, except by way of other gleeful children sharing the news with their parents: “Look at how I didn’t mess up, ma!”

But the year is 2014, and newly so.

The pictures must have been a welcome distraction from the first few sluggish days of work, as they seemed to be shared endlessly on Facebook.

Some friends were even moved into recounting their own embarrassing episodes from long ago, and over 1,700 commenters on the original post took the opportunity to crack jokes or share their own insights on the situation.

In more immediate social media circles, recollections include the hilarious lack of control when it came to answering the call of nature, and getting heads stuck in everything from stair railings to large gaps in fences.

But the difference, though slight, is crucial: as full-fledged adults, they were sharing their stories many years after said incidents, which are now firmly far enough in the past to be looked upon fondly and made light of.

Sadly, those kids probably did not enjoy the same privilege of much time passing between the incident itself and news of it spreading.

I hope they never find out just how popular the pictures were.

A little less than two decades ago, you still had time to pick yourself up and dry your eyes.

There was little danger of someone pointing a smartphone at your tear-streaked face and uploading the picture online.

Moments like these are captured for a variety of reasons. Laughs and giggles perhaps, or a caring party sharing a visual update with concerned parents stuck at work.

However, more thought and care is required before subjecting innocents to a spotlight on childish antics, however fleeting the attention of an ever-fickle online audience may be.

I did not make many resolutions this year, but among the few was to be more mindful of what I share on social media.

Before taking a picture of someone who is quite possibly experiencing pain and confusion, think: if a picture of yourself in similar duress was shared a thousand times over, how would you feel?

And before uploading it on Facebook or other social media, consider: you may find this funny and non-offensive, but if you were responsible for the child’s well-being, do you have their consent to share this image? And are they equipped with sufficient capacity to give informed consent? 

Everyone likes a laugh, or an opportunity to express empathy, but some material can definitely be shared in more private mediums, such as family group chats on Whatsapp.

Most importantly, do both parties fully comprehend the level of attention that it could command, whether immediately or after much time has passed since the incident?

After all, Malaysia has among the biggest number of Facebook users in the world, and just about anything - mortifying or meaningful - seems to go viral these days.

Statistics from last September place us at 18th spot worldwide, with a user base of 12.7 million and growing.

This is a considerable number and one that can, and should, do much good this 2014 with considerate sharing.

The writer was from a generation who only got the most basic of smartphones around age 17. What are your 2014 resolutions for your own social media use?

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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first day , school , malaysians , facebook , internet , students


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