As a media user I live by the rule that if a newspaper, tv or radio story involves either sex, drinking or suicides (preferably, from the perspective of media editors a mix of all three) and “the internet” or “social websites”, I should be really cautious. And so should you.
The problem is that adding “the internet” and these days (because everybody have access to the internet) “social websites” is the modern day version of “out in the deep forest”. In the 21st century mythical creatures like trolls, vampires and leprechauns and their equivalents have moved from the moors and dark forests to the internet.
Take the story of Amanda Hudson and her 15 year-old daughter Jodie. Jodie threw a party, and boy, did she throw a party. It was the biggest thing this side of Caligula with teenagers consuming alcohol galore, having copious amounts of sex and – best of all – ripping a luxury house completely apart. In the end a massive police force had to intervene to stop the destruction. But my guess is that this wasn’t what made editors orgasmic. It was the fact that the party had been announced on the social website Bebo, made infamous by the Welsh internet suicide pact.
…Mrs Hudson says the party was anything but a drunken riot. In her letter before action to the newspapers, her lawyers say that the Hudsons employed private security guards to help supervise the private party on 3 May. The letter adds that nothing was stolen; no alcohol was served or permitted; none of the guests took part in sexual acts; the police were not called; and only minor damage was caused to one of the doors. Mrs Hudson also denies “punching or otherwise chastising” her daughter.
So where did the story come from?
Well, first young Jodie had been a bit … let us say creative when she posted an account of the party on her Bebo profile. She may have a big career as a tabloid journalist ahead of her.
Second, the story fitted nicely into the narrative that the internet in general and social websites in particular is an inherently dangerous place which will ruin the life of your children. Set up an account on Bebo and within a couple of weeks the average 15 year-old will have turned into a suicidal sex-crazed alcoholic pursued by just about every sexual predator in the world.
Lawyers now warn that the Hudson story will have consequences for media. According to The Independent:
The case is expected to have far-reaching consequences for third parties who use or publish information from social networking sites. Lawyers say it could place a duty on all second-hand users to establish the truth of everything they want to republish from such sites.
Oh dear. Unlike bloggers, professional journalists will have to check their sources in the future. If we could only ask them to be critical of modern myths as well.