We’re all increasingly warned about the digital footprint we’re leaving for hackers, potential employers, perhaps even potential partners.
Don’t say anything online that you don’t want committed to the world, forever, is a reasonable rule of thumb when it comes to social media.
But if a project from the New York-based creative agency Degree180 gets its way, soon your friends could be enlisted into submitting the things that you say on the Web into a searchable archive, a Social Autopsy into its “morgue.”
Social Autopsy is set to launch as soon as it has 100,000 individual profiles made up of submitted screenshots “for people who lob hate speech over the Web,” as well as companies who’ve fallen foul too.
It already reeks a bit of last year’s super-controversial people-rating app Peeple, but its motivation, it appears, is to help prevent online bullies driving people to commit suicide, a not un-noble one. The primer video explains:
These individuals are your teachers, doctors, neighbors and business owners and for the first time ever you’ll be given the chance to run a real background check on them to see what these people represent behind closed doors.
Once submitted, a process that can only be done by someone that knows you and means any pseudonym social accounts you’ve set up could be rendered useless, these profiles will stay live for a year, and be searchable with a surname and last name.
“It is our hope that in that time frame, the user will consider carefully what they share,” the company says.
How will it determine hate speech? Its own team will judge the submissions, the company says, giving the example:
There is a big difference between “F*** the Patriots. Go Giants! ” and “I hope Tom Brady dies, and his wife is raped”. We all know the difference.
Unfortunately, the test above does not look much like the international legal definition of hate speech, which is summarized as: “the advocacy of hatred based on nationality, race or religion – [and] occupies an exceptional position in international law.”
The law has been rightfully extended in many countries to cover things like disability hate crime and individual nations do have a “duty to prohibit hate speech.”
But on clarifying how countries must balance these laws with the right to freedom of expression, the UN and others said back in 2001:
No one should be penalised for the dissemination of hate speech unless it has been shown that they did so with the intention of inciting discrimination, hostility or violence.
Does your idiot friend saying they ‘hope’ someone famous dies or gets raped qualify? Not really. Is Social Autopsy, rather than a criminal court, really the place that issues like this should be tried? No, it is certainly not.
Here’s the clincher:
Because why engage in an online back-forth argument with friends over insulting statuses and comments when you could instead screenshot their harsh words and privately submit them to our database?
Because insulting people is not a crime. Because public debate, with people you will sometimes disagree with, is how we got to now and will get to next. Because we don’t need any more reasons not to trust people around us.
As ever, I fall on the side of an open internet even if, or indeed because I can, find opinions I disagree with.
I hope Social Autopsy dies a death.