Daryl Ilbury

Let’s exorcise anonymity from social media

In Eish!, Fools, media on March 31, 2016 at 1:10 pm

freddy-krueger-vinyl-mask

‘CrispySkin69 has sent you a friend request’

It’s one of Shakespeare’s most enduring lines: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose”. Perhaps it’s time mainstream media did their best to exorcise unnecessary anonymity from social media.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I love the fact it’s encouraging change in the media landscape, but I hate that it’s driven by people generally unqualified to sit behind the wheel; especially mysterious people with unknown qualifications. In fact, I find that quite scary, because in the media a name is important.

This is especially so for a young journalist, because there’s no bigger thrill than when they first get their name in a byline – that part of an article that carries the name of the person by whom it was written.  It’s not a given for a journalist that every piece they write will automatically carry their name. That right has to be earned through an initiation of anonymity. 

They will have to bloody their notebooks, scribbling their way up through the ranks from, say, ‘staff reporter’ through being attached to a ‘beat’ such as ‘court reporter’, before finally cracking sufficient acknowledgement to be anointed with their own name in the byline.

It’s only at that stage that, it could be argued, they become recognised by their peers as qualified to carry the mantle ‘journalist’.

The name is important not only for the purposes of recognition, but also for accountability. For all the titles I wrote it was made clear that if my name was on the byline than I was accountable for what I wrote. It was the same when I was in radio – my name was on the show, so I was on my own. If someone took sufficient umbrage with what I said, legally the station would step back and let me take the fall.

Such is the responsibility for being a ‘name’ in the media.

But social media has changed all that. There seems to be the belief that anonymity goes hand in hand with ‘democratisation’, that not only is it permissible to opine without restraint, but that this should be done behind a curtain of secrecy. No names and clear head-and-shoulder shots on the byline taking full accountable credit for what was said; instead commentary should wear the scab of mysterious characters shielded by fictitious epithets and avatars.

And this is my beef: if you want to play the media game, you play by the rules; and one of those rules is the issue of accountability. If you want the credit for what you say, have the balls to attach your real name and image to it.

So what can the grown-ups of mainstream media do? Exorcise the anonymity. Don’t give credit where it’s not due. If you’re going to publish a comment or pull one off social media and put it on-air, online or in print, only choose those by people playing by the same rules as yourself. So you don’t quote ‘DragonMistress’ and ‘KnobHead69’; only real people. And you make this clear in your media guidelines. It should be carried above your comments section, on your website and mentioned on-air.

Anonymity has a place in social media: the damp and fetid dungeons of the dark web.

 

 

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