You have a voice. Be careful how you use it.

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We have tremendous power at our fingertips. With a simple click we can share our thoughts, feelings and opinions with thousands of people all over the world. There are days I revel in this simple power and others where it makes me shudder in horror.

Two months ago no one knew who Boko Haram was. If they had heard a whisper, it about a warlord in Northern Nigeria and then they flipped to read about Kim Kardashian and her tacky wedding dress.

Then Boko Haram kidnapped 200 school girls and everything changed. The traditional press went into survival mode. They know something the ordinary man on the street didn’t. They know that even more dangerous than giving into a terrorist’s demands, is giving them publicity. So, they self censored.

We didn’t. We jumped on the hashtag bandwagon with all the best intentions in the world. Of course we believed that the world should know, should DO something. We didn’t stop to think of the consequences of our actions.

Part of my job is to evaluate the social media publicity of the brands I work on and give it a monetary value. There is no monetary value on the publicity Boko Haram received, that’s how big it is.

A little known warlord and his extremism have been uplifted to world notoriety.

He didn’t want a million dollars or a hundred prisoners released. He got exactly what he wanted, exactly what he had planned for, exactly what we gave him. He couldn’t have bought the publicity we gave out for free.

The sad fact is that those girls are not going to be rescued. They have outlived their usefulness for both the terrorists and the fickle attention of social media.

If their government and world forces had acted in the first 48 hours, their story might be different. If the telecommunication networks instead of paying Boko Haram to erect base stations in his territory had cut all telecoms instead, we could have cut him off at the knees.

We didn’t. They didn’t. We just fed his grandiose self-importance by our naive reaction.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have been distraught, enraged and horrified by what happened. I am saying that we need to think who we are helping by using the power of social media to spread our reactions. We didn’t help those girls. We helped the men who kidnapped them at gunpoint. We are complicit in what has happened.

If there was not an environment of social media and the free dissemination of whatever we want, Boko Haram would never have bothered kidnapping them in the first place. It would not have served their interests. They did what they did precisely because they knew how we would react and what we would do. We gave them a stage, an international platform and it’s time we took responsibility.

Just because we have a mouth and a voice and the technology to reach into the homes and lives of millions, doesn’t mean we should. We are not privy to press briefings, military briefings or government machinations. We don’t know the whole story and grabbing onto one little part of it can be as dangerous as knowing nothing.

So, ask yourself, would ISIS be playing rugby with a severed head and mowing down civilians with machine guns if they couldn’t Twitter it as it happened? They are uploading on 15 seconds intervals the proof of their inhumanity and we gave them the stage to do it.

Even worse, we’re watching it, devouring it. It’s better than Honey BooBoo. It’s reality TV and the sick thing is we love it. Just look at how many times those images have been shared over the past week.

Next time you click share, think about whose interests you are serving and then think about whether or not it is responsible to do so.

Turn off and drop out

It’s 06:30 in the morning. Must update myFacebook status. GAH! What should my BBM status say? And Twitter – mustTwitter. Have to check my email, my LinkedIn and my Google+. What about the blog? What do I say? 
Really, does anyone actually care? It’s hardly as though I spout words of wisdom. So why then am I letting it drive me round the bend?
The sun’s not up yet and my stress levelsare through the roof because I’ve been off the grid for 8 hours. Insane?
Last week I fell off the grid. I turned offmy cellphone. I didn’t check my email. I didn’t log into Facebook or Twitter orany of the others. I didn’t agonise over my Klout score or check in onFoursquare every place I went.
It was better than going to the spa.
The time has come to set some limitationsand to enforce them. I don’t expect everyone to be Harry Potter and magicallydeduce what they are. I’m going to tell you.
1.   Do not call me between 5pm and10pm. Assuming I answer, I will not be happy to hear from you. After 10pm Iwill be so exhausted I’ll just mumble incoherently at you about lunch boxes andquadratic equations. Whatever it is, it will keep until the morning.
2.   If you would hesitate to callmy home telephone, don’t call me on my cell either.
3.   Do not call me at 4am. Whoeveryou were I am sure there is a VIP hot rock in hell with your name on it.
4.   Do not phone me after a bottleof Tequila with the next BIG idea. Trust me it is not that big. Look at it whenyou’re sober. 
5.   Do not copy me on hilariousjokes, chain letters and any email that includes a line about sending it on to1500 of my closest friends or burning in hell.
6.   I know I have not won $10 000000. I am not that lucky. Stop taunting me.
7.   I cannot save all the abandonedanimals in the world. I sympathise with their plight. I donate to the SPCA.Leave me alone.
8.   If you work for a bank or anycall centre take me off your list. Whatever you are selling, I don’t want it.Not now. Not ever.
9.   God made Sunday a day of rest.It is my island in a week of insanity. Do not abuse it.
10.Learn to read the signs ofoverstaying your welcome. Yawning means it is time to go.
Despite all evidence above to the contrary,I am not a completely anti-social bitch. I just realised how much empty chatterand fluff clutters up my communication channels.
It takes me forever to find the informationthat really matters because I’m checking 6 different media and sifting through100 odd totally meaningless emails from J Edgar Hoover and Johnny English.
My message to the masses…
Turn off and drop out.

The tsunami and the teacup

Image from ilove2cgw.blogspot.com

Oh my! Oh my! I have caused a tsunami in a teacup. Who knew I had it me? Stand back or you might get wet.

The Great School Ambush turns out to have nothing to do with the bullying of my son and how we are going to resolve the issue. Instead it turns out that my blog is a Problem.

If I were a different sort of person I might apologise to those I have offended and promise never to do it again. But, I’m not. I am the daughter of a journalist and I grew up succoured on the unassailable rights of freedom of expression, speech and the media. I suppose the apple never falls far from the tree and I have certainly lived up to this pat little adage.

The power of social media and networking is a multi-headed hydra allowing the general public (like me) a public forum in which to exercise Freedom of Expression. I doubt anyone when drafting the constitution imagined how far it would extend. I seriously doubt I am the only parent with a blog and I’d bet a good amount of cash that there are more than a few students with blogs, Twitter accounts and MySpace pages. I am the one to whom the powers-that-be have drawn their attention to.

And how did that come about? It’s interesting really. Unless you’re a friend on Facebook or I’ve personally given you the address it’s a bit like searching for a needle in haystack. There are about 400 of us on Facebook with same name. The blog is not associated with me except for appearing on my profile. So somebody had a very busy morning indeed. The true culprit turns out to be closer to home.

Husband to headmistress: “She’s sitting there all quiet now, but if you want to know what she really thinks you should read her blog!”

Gee, thanks.

The initial shock of being called to the principal’s office has abated somewhat. After all, I did think those days were past. Then again my headmistress wrote me a very politely worded letter of reference on my matriculation. I could never show it to anyone, because reading between the lines she said I tended towards outspoken opinions and blowing at windmills.

I wasn’t supposed to know that I have become a Problem, but on the school run this morning the father of the offspring ran into the Principal of the Prep school. The father thought it was hysterical and called me struggling to breathe in between great gales of laughter. Ha. Ha. Ha. Nonetheless, despite my dodgy spelling, the Principal in principle has no problem with the blog as such. I knew I liked him.

Nonetheless I don’t think the institution has really considered the implication of social networking and Twitter. In the past parents and scholars had few avenues open to them. The school’s marketing and PR department handled any media issues.

I must digress here to an example that happened when I was school. A newspaper published an article about teenage smoking and interviewed a number of schools throughout the country. Turns out they also interviewed our headmistress. She stated unequivocally that her girls did not smoke. We had a good chuckle over that having spent a few hours in detention for that very reason. Still the reputation of the school remained intact even if the journalist writing the story expressed his disbelief. If we’d had Twitter then…

These days it’s all very different. Companies, businesses, service providers and individuals have to live up to and exceed their service level promises rather than papering over the cracks. I think it is quite refreshing, although my priority would be providing a resolution to the bullying problem rather than getting all worked up over a blog. Even better resolve it and I’ll blog about how brilliant the intervention was and how happy I am that it is all sorted out. Just saying.

Just to recap the Freedom of Expression as per our constitution:

Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes:¬
• freedom of the press and other media
• freedom to receive or impart information or ideas
• freedom of artistic creativity
• academic freedom and freedom of scientific research

The right in subsection (1) does not extend to: ¬
• propaganda for war
• incitement of imminent violence
• advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm

I don’t think I’ve incited anyone to outright war. And I may be somewhat disparaging at times towards my beloved husband, but so much as to be accused of hate speech? Okay, he may disagree. But that is his right.

After some research I have discovered that although not a card-carrying member of the Fourth Estate I am protected by the same laws. The writer of an opinion piece whether published in a personal blog or paid for by a syndicated publication is protected. Funnily enough South Africa even has a Coalition for Freedom of Speech founded during the whole debacle here about press freedom and the infamous Information Bill. I never thought it would apply to me, but there you go.

I don’t think my experience is any different to that at any school, in fact I am sure they all face myriad challenges of far graver severity than mine. My mother’s dog walking friend has two boys in high school at a very well regarded public school who are both struggling with crippling drug addiction. Apparently, it’s nothing special, all the boys do it.

I suppose I should call my father before he finds out from my mother – now that is social networking for you. They have some sort of psychic parental link. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, rather a very big wooden one. It’s genetic.

Oh well, I feel like Zapiro, slightly bemused that something so small could have caused such a huge reaction. I usually imagine my friends having a good giggle over my posts, but it seems I am now writing to a captivated audience. How very odd.