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A post that gained popularity on social media recently is a photograph taken near a bus halt in Fort. In it, a young female can be seen giving money to an old man. The picture went viral as many commented on the generosity of the girl. The picture was captured at a random moment and was shared to highlight the humanity of the girl.

Once the photograph was published, the girl commented on the photograph, saying how the old man is a lottery seller she often buys lotteries from. However, one day his money was stolen and although the police caught the culprits, the old man’s money was gone. He was desperate and when asked how much money he needed to restart his business, he said he needed a minimum of 2,500 rupees. The girl only had 1,500 rupees with her at the moment and she gave it to the old man, saying that she would come back with 1,000 so he can restart his business.

So many posts of a similar nature are published, liked, commented on and shared on a daily basis. Like them, this post too was shared and reshared. While the photograph was originally posted on Facebook, it soon found its way into other social media platforms, websites and even newspapers.

On a daily basis content featuring individuals are uploaded without their consent or knowledge. Photographs taken of people are interpreted by people who are not fully aware of the actual incident. This makes one wonder if social media is a platform for anything and everything and if a line should be drawn and if so, where

However, when a journalist contacted her for a comment on the incident, she was unwilling to give one. This wasn’t because she was arrogant or haughty, but because the popularity of the post was a nuisance to her and was interfering with her daily life. She added that she has since deactivated her Facebook account and prefers publicity be given to the old man.

This is the twist to the story and there is no doubt that this is an aspect not thought of by many. While this particular incident was posted with a positive theme, the incident is looked at from the publisher’s perspective and the photograph could have been published with an inaccurate or false caption. Further, the story could have a negative theme. For instance, the incident in Wariyapola spread like wildfire. People were amazed by the video posted online where a young girl physically and verbally abuses a man after he sexually harasses her. The video gave way to a rise in feminist campaigns and activists were very vocal about street harassment. However, the girl in the video was also slandered and Wariyapola Nangi became a term used widely and not in a positive way.

On a daily basis content featuring individuals are uploaded without their consent or knowledge. Photographs taken of people are interpreted by people who are not fully aware of the actual incident. This makes one wonder if social media is a platform for anything and everything and if a line should be draw and if so, where.

One takes a risk when interpreting an incident and also when assuming the accuracy of a post. While we can analyze an incident, are we able to explain an incident without first consulting those who were directly involved in the incident? Can a bystander decide what happened and can his interpretation be considered the absolute truth?

For instance, what would have happened if the caption that accompanied the photograph of the girl giving money to the old man had a negative tone? Should the girl be expected to remain silent and not take action against the great injustice done to her? What rights and ethics are involved when publishing content, especially on social media?

“Social media has become an extremely powerful tool in forming social opinions and making social good. However, as uncle Ben told the Spider Man once, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. With the penetration of internet reaching out to all walks of our society, more and more people are getting access to this powerful medium, without a proper awareness of the bad consequences of misusing it,” Amitha Amarasinghe, a digital marketing professional at Neo@Ogilvy, said.

He also shared an incident where a video posted online went viral. “Recently, I was watching a video clip being circulating on social media showing a brawl between a teenage boy and girl. The entire fight was video captured on a mobile device by another teenager and shared on several social media communities as a ‘piece of entertainment’. I’ve seen social media users from different education levels sharing this video clip and commenting on it as ‘entertaining to watch’,” Amitha Amarasinghe said. He went on to explain why one must think twice about publishing and sharing such posts, “But, how many of them would have thought about the shame factor in the lives of the boy and girl who were involved in that incident? They seem barely 15 years old, and they have a life to face for many more years longer than that. What if one of these kids commits suicide after being exposed to such amounts of public shaming?  This is why it’s so important for people to think through the consequences, before sharing something on Facebook or Twitter.”

While it is important to be careful about what you post, it is also important to be aware of the rules and regulations of the social media platform where you post your content. The Nation also spoke to Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) Senior Information Security Engineer Roshan Chandraguptha about this issue. According to him, the number of complaints they had received, especially revolving around the misuse of Facebook, are 2,200 in 2014 and 900 this year. Many are regarding fake accounts, he said.
Commenting on photographs and videos, Chandraguptha said content on religious violation, racism and hate speech can be reported to Facebook and also to SL CERT and they can help solve the problem as a middle man. He also said that usually legal action can be taken through the Computer Crime Act.

Incidents regarding content posted online can be categorized as crime and civil cases, police spokesperson ASP Ruwan Gunasekara explained. He said, “Insulting, misusing photographs and similar issues can be challenged legally and compensation be awarded in a civil law case. Computer fraud and data theft are categorized as criminal cases and action can be taken in court.” Regardless of the type of crime, ASP Gunasekara said, complaints must be first made to the police.

“Eventually, people tend to act as monkeys with razorblades; using social media to share everything they stumble upon on the internet, without properly weighing the consequences,” Amitha Amarasinghe said. He added that it is thus important to properly educate general users about social media and social media ethics.

It is after all, important to remember that despite how good our intentions are, what we post online should not affect the rights of other people and we must be responsible about what we choose to post and share.

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