Is social media heading to the heart of darkness?

In the UK we have been having a little bit of “fun” following a married premier league footballer’s whose attempt to hide an alleged affair through the use of a super injunction was blown out of the water following something like 75000 Twitterati naming him, a Scottish Sunday newspaper alleging UK law did not apply in Scotland and printing his face on the front page and the individual being named in both the House of Lords and the House of Parliament.

At one level it is all a bit of a giggle. Here we have someone with substantial amounts of money attempting to keep his indiscretions out of the public eye through a powerful and sophisticated gagging order and, largely because of the Internet, it has all unravelled leaving him with a substantial amount of egg on his face. But there will be deeper and more serious ramifications.

It has long been a historical privilege that members of the Houses of Lords and Parliament are not bound by legal judgements and can name names, which is all very democratic unless the MP that named the footballer is a Liverpool fan trying to embarrass Manchester United!

Now the senior judge in the UK is saying that MPs must abide by legal decisions and there looks like being a face off between the MPs who make the law and the judges who implement it.

And then there’s the role of social media in the whole affair, no pun intended! Social media, Twitter and Facebook have been lauded for their role in the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and we can see the funny side in Twitter helping name and shame an overpaid kicker of a leather ball who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, but I can’t help feel a little anxious about the role of social responsibility in social media.

What if the US Navy Seals who took out Bin Laden were named by a Tweeter or Facebook user with a grudge? What if someone under witness care in a serious criminal prosecution was named on social media instead of being leaned on by associates of the criminal in the dock. You get the picture?

Democracy and freedom come at a price and part of that price is to behave responsibly. I have yet to be persuaded that the footballer affair is nothing more that prurient schoolboy mischievousness masquerading as alleged democracy in action. If that is all I have to worry about then I will be a happy man but I have a horrible feeling that we will witness social media going into a Heart of Darkness journey before too long.

Let me know what you think.

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.