#FakeFans, Trolls and Suicides vs. #RealFans, Thank Yous and Spirit

twitter trolls

This blog post was meant to go live last week, but due to technical difficulties it was delayed. We apologise – not our fault guv’nor.

The news of the death of Hannah Smith, apparently driven to suicide by anonymous bullying from individuals on ASK.FM, is the latest tragedy to add to a growing list of ‘Deaths Caused by Social Media’.

It comes in the same week as Mary Beard is sent rape and death threats online by Twitter ‘trolls’ and Tuesday’s Dispatches programme results in #FakeFans trending in relation to undercover revelations concerning the seeding of brands’ social media campaigns via fake Facebook profiles, and Coronation Street stars get their wrists slapped for accepting free goods in exchange for a tweet.

With all of this bad press splashed across the current media landscape, it looks like social media needs a little reputation management.

In the immortal words of Kelly’s Heroes, Oddball, “Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves?”

Aren’t we forgetting all of the good that social media has done? What about the #RealFans, who get to connect with the lives of their favourite celebrities and become part of the fabric of a brand’s story? What about all the fundraising, the x number of dogs that are rehomed each year, or the advice and connections shared within niche online communities?

As (best Prime Minister ever) Hugh Grant says in the introduction to the film Love Actually, against a backdrop of loved ones greeting one another:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.

When we were all watching this in the cinema, we were reeling in the wake of one of the most shattering blows to hit the civilised world in living memory, the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Now, we are living in a world where hatred and greed is as online as it is offline. But, you know what? So is love and generosity.

Yes, social media (in this instance, Blackberry Messenger) was associated with the organisation of the London riots last year, but it was also instrumental in the clean up (the Twitter handle @Riotcleanup amassed more than 50,000 followers in fewer than 10 hours and resulted in volunteer clean ups springing up all over the capital, often hundreds of people strong). The hashtag #riotcleanup prompted the registration of riotcleanup.co.uk, a static page that collated information about clean up operations. It was started by a concerned non-Londoner living in rural Shropshire:

I was sitting at home following the #londonriots hashtag — then I saw #riotcleanup start to appear. I am not in London, but wanted to do something.

Meanwhile, Tumblr played host to “Catch A Looter“, an effort to catch and prosecute looters by accepting and posting images of suspects for identification.

You don’t need to be a social media monitoring expert to be aware of the huge volume of Thank Yous that appear all over the social media space every day. Film Director Brett Ratner was reunited with his dog Lucky within a day of posting a have-you-seen-this-dog poster to his Twitter profile and publicly thanked his 211,868 followers for their help in finding him. And many a celebrity is ‘overcome’ by the love and backing they receive from fans through social networks. Ian Somerhalder, Vampire Diaries actor and animal welfare campaigner writes, “Twitter verse you are an unstoppable force of good & beauty. Thank you…” But these are celebrities. What about those without any support?

Well, there’s the case of Alice Pyne, the 15 year old girl with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, who created a ‘bucket list’ of things to do before she died. Having been mentioned during Prime Minister’s Questions by her MP, within 3 days #alicebucketlist was the top trending term on Twitter and the third most discussed term in the world. Having listed her 17 to-do items on her blog, which included having a photo shoot with her sister and friends and to meet Take That, many of her wishes came true thanks to the sharing and support received from users of the micro blogging site.

The very notion of an @mention on Twitter is, in their own words, to give a ‘shout out’ to someone, another person or brand, which is IMHO tantamount to a ‘thank you’. Facebook, whether genuine in outlook or as smart branding (it’s immaterial which), limits their terminology to the realm of the positive, talking only about ‘likes’ and ‘friends’. Pinterest and Instagram too are all about ‘likes’. Sites like ASK.FM and Twitter trolls are the minority in a social playground of well-behaved and good intentioned children. Even as I write, a Facebook page set up in Hannah Smith’s memory to e-petition government to put in place protective measures to safeguard against similar incidents in the future, already has 45,000 likes.

So, my point is this. As in the most popular tales of the epic struggle between Good and Evil, Good out-manoeuvres Evil into submission by being better, pushing harder, shouting louder. Good has to do what it does best: Good, and lots of it.

So, shout louder Good. Let’s not ignore all the Thank Yous, the community spirit and genuine conversations.

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