When Adding Momentum

In one of the early Spiderman comics it says “ With great power there must also come — great responsibility!” (and further reading on the quote can be found here, it’s quite interesting). It also applies when power is little. And often enough, responsibility doesn’t scale down proportionally.

The issue I’m talking about: Last week, a show host of German radio station Fritz (located in Berlin) published an Open Letter to Kristina Schröder, German Minister for Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (or as I used to refer to it, DEBYM), in which she heavily attacked the minister who had tried to sympathize with young families because she’s pregnant now. Voilà, promotion — Twitter took it to the next level. And then Fritz’s program director stepped in and took the page offline, accompanied by a statement that “the Open Letter did not represent the opinion of Fritz’s editorial team … [and they would] not accept infringements of Personal Rights.”

And that’s how the fight started. What the program director did wasn’t the best he could (and should) have done. The appropriate thing to do here is to make your employee see sense and ask her to publicly apologize for the inappropriate remarks. That way he would have avoided the accusations of censorship that are now being raised by the audience who have already taken care of the issue themselves.

The problem is that the Web makes it easy to let things run out of control. Once an information has been published, it’s being cached, copied, multiplied in all sorts of ways, and whenever it’s done manually, the ones in charge don’t necessarily pay attention to what they’re doing. Issues like this are easy to pull out of frame, because the outraged public doesn’t necessarily understand that just because you feel a certain way, it’s not okay from a moral point of view, neither from a legal one, to insult a person in whatever medium. That’s why the page was taken offline, but it’s not what the public thought the reason was. The story of some politician trying to undermine Freedom of Speech spreads much better, and so does support by people who think that censorship must be fought against with all means available. The only problem is that whoever re-publishes the original article without additional comments, just to add momentum for a perceived good cause, becomes liable for the same reasons that Fritz would have become liable had they not taken the page down, and this is what most people don’t know.

Which again leads us back to media competence, and why this would make an excellent case study for social science lessons at school. It’s a multidimensional issue, covering social dynamics, media dynamics, public law and, last not least, communication. This is something not only the next generation better knew, but it’s also the most sensible place to discuss the topic outside of Fritz’s commentary section, in the real world, because that’s where having the discussion can really have an impact and make a difference.


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