With the second series of Dapper Laughs pulled by ITV, and Julien Blanc, also known as the ‘rape guru’, denied a UK visa, one cannot deny the power of cyber democracy. E-petitions and social media are the way in which we are able to express emotions and opinions when political bodies seem increasingly distant. It needs to be questioned, however, whether this is the just way to encourage action.
I agree that we need a new form of activism and representation to express our grievances to the political elite. The government cannot deny ITV the right to broadcast Dapper Laughs because of obvious laws on freedom of expression. This means that when we find an aired programme offensive and believe that it sets a bad example to young generations, we turn to the powerful cyber democracy to encourage the broadcasters to take control. This mechanism is a great way in which people can affect change that cannot be dealt with by legal and political frameworks.
It may indeed be the only way that groups of people can adequately express themselves over social and cultural issues. Mass action online has replaced mass action on the streets. Big corporations and the government will see via these petitions that broadcasts of misogyny and advocacy of sexual violence are not acceptable to the public, and therefore could set up regulations so that the experience cannot be repeated.
“E-petitions and social media are the way in which we are able to express emotions and opinions when political bodies seem increasingly distant. It needs to be questioned, however, whether this is the just way to encourage action.”
However, if the programme has broken no law, as was the case with Dapper Laughs, then are we right to have it taken off air? This e-petition might have set the precedent for more and more shows that are regarded offensive to the minority to be removed. 68,000 people signed the petition on change.org to take Dapper off the air, 136,000 signed the petition to deny Julien Blanc a UK visa. The people who signed the petitions are probably not representative of the general populace, yet they have been successful, making the concept of “cyber democracy” seem somewhat twisted.
What’s more, the twitter mob could be dangerous. Aside from damaging freedom of expression, they also have the potential to become bullying agents of harassment. By jumping on the angry twitter mob, very few of us actually do research into what we are protesting. For example, #shirtgate: It is shocking that the power of social media caused Matt Taylor, a Rosetta spacecraft scientist, to break down in tears on live television because he didn’t think about the shirt that he was wearing. Whatever line lies between twitter justice and cyber bullying was, in this case, thoroughly blurred.
“We need to remember that there is a person at the other side of that @ symbol who might not deserve such abuse.”
This is not to say that we should not express our opinions over twitter, or use social media to campaign on issues that matter to us. Rather, we need to remember that there is a person at the other side of that @ symbol who might not deserve such abuse. Yes, Dapper Laughs and Julien Blanc can be seen to promote violent sexual behaviour. But the scientist who made one highly televised mistake should not have to face personal social media attacks.
As long as ‘clicktivism’ avoids denigrating such individuals and enforcing the rule of the minority over the majority, then it is a wonderful means of popular protest. But, for now, it is difficult to find the middle ground between cyber democracy and cyber bullying.
Image from Twitter courtesy of mirror.co.uk