Click & Tell: Get Safe Online Week 2012

Help your friends and family stay safe online

I’m proud to be part of Get Safe Online, Britain’s leading source of unbiased, factual and easy-to-understand information on online safety. Tomorrow marks the start of Get Safe Online Week 2012. Get Safe Online is asking everyone to pass on online safety tips to
friends, family, colleagues, neighbours or even strangers who you think may
benefit from the advice. In short: Click and Tell!

Here’s my piece of advice. Don’t click on links in Facebook or Twitter messages that say things like ‘What are you doing in this?’ or ‘Who took this photo of me in my bathroom?’. Another one to watch out for is ‘I can’t believe what they said about you in this blog’. Ignore them even (especially) if it comes from a friend, as they’ll probably have had their Facebook or Twitter account taken over by nasty people.

These messages are clever: the senders know that people will be anxious to see photos of them or to learn what others have said about them. If you get one claiming to be from a friend, don’t click – instead give your friend a call. Chances are they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about as they won’t have sent the message. (It will have been send by someone who’s taken over their account.)

You’ll find a huge amount of helpful advice about staying safe online on Get Safe Online’s website. And if you’re in Cardiff, London, Leeds, Edinburgh and Belfast, watch out for Get Safe Online’s roadshow this week.

Twitter: powerful, but not yet stronger than mainstream media

John Prescott’s Guardian article about Twitter this week caused a stir.

The former deputy prime minister seized on the fact Twitter now had 10 million UK users to claim that Twitter was now more influential than the mainstream media. He pointed out that just nine million buy a national newspaper.

Now I’m the first to accept that Twitter is influential. It is now a news source, noticeboard and echo chamber. It is richly entertaining. I will link to this post from my @robskinner account. But its influence is closely linked with the mainstream media. Britain’s top media groups and their journalists are prominent on Twitter. Many of the most popular links from Twitter content are to the mainstream media. After all, 140 characters leads you wanting more information about a big story.

Prescott argues that Twitter takes power away from the mainstream media. Here he’s on stronger ground. There’s little doubt that social media gives an important counterbalance to the rich and powerful. Prescott cites the backlash against Jan Moir’s poisonous article about Stephen Gately‘s death as an example. But it’s ironic that a politician at the heart of a government notorious for spin and control freaks should see himself as a champion of the battle against bias:

“It’s given me a voice and a connection to millions of people that the distorted prism of the mainstream media denied.”

Prescott is well on the way to national treasure status. And Twitter is largely responsible for that.

A question of taste: the treatment of Louise Mensch and Roy Hodgson

Two high profile names were in the headlines today as victims of poor taste.

Tory MP Louise Mensch hit out at the abuse she received on Twitter after she refused to support fellow MPs’ condemnation of Rupert Murdoch as unfit to run a major international company.

Mensch told BBC Radio’s Today programme that critics were immoral and misogynistic for describing her as a slut and a whore. Cumbria’s chief constable Stuart Hyde (responsible for e-crime at the Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO) described the comments as sexual bigotry at its worse.

Meanwhile, The Sun mocked new England football manager Roy Hodgson. Its headline ‘Bwing on the Euwos’ made fun of the way Roy pronounces ‘r’ as ‘w’. The headline has provoked a debate about the way we treat people with speech impediments. (Topical, with the recent film The King’s Speech about King George VI’s stammer.)

Mensch’s case shows once again how base online reaction can be. Obscenities once mouthed in pubs and clubs now go viral on social media and online forums. It’s deeply unpleasant for anyone affected, but hard to combat. Legal action is one possible approach, but as we saw with the Paul Chambers Twitter joke trial innocent but foolish people can suffer when the law is involved. (Chambers was regarded as a terrorist for making a silly joke on Twitter to blow up Doncaster airport after he was delayed.)

The Sun’s treatment of Roy Hodgson is rather different. In some ways it is worse – a national newspaper, rather than a loutish tweeter, mocks Roy’s speech in its front page lead story. Yet the line between humour and cruelty is a very fine one. Thirty years ago broadsheets routinely made fun of SDP leader Roy Jenkins’ identical affliction. (Anyone remember the song about Jenkins and fellow SDP leader Shirley Williams: ‘If you were the only Shirl, and I were the only Woy’?) More recently, supporters of Roy Hodgson’s firmer club Fulham wore shirts with the slogan ‘In Woy we Twust’.

Hodgson is a fine manager who speaks a string of foreign languages. (Not a skill I imagine the Sun headline writer could match.) He’ll shrug off the ‘joke’. Yet an unconfident teenager may not feel so happy about being mocked for a stammer or other speech trait. We should be sensitive to other people’s feelings.