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Brands must do more to recognise the pitfalls of anti-social media

Jessica Laney was 16 years old when she hanged herself in December.

Ask.fm

Ask.fm

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She had created a profile on Ask.fm, a social network where users can post questions anonymously, and was bullied prolifically. One poster asked: 'Can you kill yourself, already?'

In response, the site's founder, Mark Terebin posted a statement in defence of it: 'Ask.fm is just a tool which helps people to communicate with each other, same as any other social network, same as phone, same as piece of paper and pen. Don't blame a tool, but try to make changes.'

Of course, the paper and pen don't have quite the same power as social-media platforms to wound instantly, nor the guaranteed reach.

Unfortunately this tragic series of events is not unique, but one of an ever-increasing number of stories of cyber-bullying and trolling, which reflect an uncomfortable, but more evident, online culture of dehumanisation.

In the rush to embrace the huge opportunities afforded by the web, are brands guilty of turning a blind eye to the dark side of social media? There is no doubt that social media is making public debate more violent and aggressive, but should the industry be doing more to protect consumers?

Cloaked in anonymity, social-media platforms have fast become a melting pot of some of the very worst cruel and insensitive bullying.

Advertisers whose content is served up next to this kind of poison on social sites would never support traditional media channels featuring this kind of abuse; yet the industry appears to have accepted this as an unavoidable downside of the social-media wave.

But, of course, if you believe the argument that we exist in the 'Wild West' era of social media, then neither brands nor media owners can possibly tackle this growing wave of abuse, or, more importantly, have any culpability for it. For too long, brands have leaned heavily on the notion that the internet is too vast a territory to police, but shouldn't they at least have the courage to try?

Nicola Kemp is Marketing's head of features. Follow her on Twitter

THE UPSHOT

What brands should know about the rise of anti-social media.

1. The cloak of anonymity

Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, is credited with having said: 'Culture is what happens when no one is looking.' This still holds true in the social-media age; where the cloak of anonymity allows consumers to share and say things they never would openly. Media-owners must be accountable for comments on their platforms.

2. A new moral compass

Media owners must also do more to protect consumers on their platforms, particularly the vulnerable. While many have outsourced moderation or taken a lean-back approach to censorship, brands should engage with charities and NGOs to develop a long-term, sustainable strategy on cyber-bullying. It's not just the right thing to do, it is in the best interests of their business.

3. The silent majority

Brands must beware of believing that social media reflects their entire customer base. According to Google, 75% of consumers don't post online opinions or reviews. If social networks fail to address anti-social media, they may never have the courage to express themselves online and social media will never fulfil its true potential.

This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk

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