Today, a rather interesting development popped into my sphere of social media awareness – something pertaining to an ongoing that most will be aware of already. Recently, Bangladesh had banned FaceBook due to their outrage at satirical images of the Prophet Muhammad making their way onto the social network. In a show of consideration (and, let’s be honest, sound business sense), FaceBook have now since blocked all images from being accessed in that region, unless you happen to be reading this in Pakistan (in which case, feel free to browse all you like, I suppose).
It was all kick-started by the Muslim attack on South Park‘s depiction of the Prophet (though, interestingly, not their depiction of God as a cross between an orang-utan and a hippopotamus) and the FaceBook community’s response – by drawing him repeatedly. Where there are gods and religious icons, there are people wanting to put a face to a name, and this is where the “satire” mud-slinging begins.
Taking one for the team
It’s not really an issue of what is and what isn’t offensive – the case in point being a Muslim icon of worship – but more of how far across the line certain groups are willing to allow you to go. Many religions openly depict their deities – Jesus is everywhere, along with Ganesh and his various fellow gods. Religions have, for a long time, been the testing ground for many an amateur comic, and poking fun at the powers that be are simply a way of passing the time and being acceptably negative about something questionable. It’s a bizarre social exception – there are thousands of blogs criticising everything from Wal-Mart to George Bush, Jr., and yet religion seems to be the only hair trigger subject.
If you’re not offended, take a look at the FaceBook group that’s been one of the primary targets of anger from the Bangledeshi government. Loads of cartoons and cut-and-paste visual humour that all seem to say the same thing – “lighten up.” But what people are forgetting about the viral nature of the internet is that, with social networking, jokes can often become crazes within days. Take a look at the LOLCAT phenomenon. These images are bizarre and funny, but had it not been for the interconnected and flood-content manner by which we now share information in a post-web 2.0 environment, they’d never have left the network of the few friends that started it off.
With religious icons, many people forget this isn’t just the neighbour’s cat they’re taking the whizz out of. They’re messing with beliefs held by millions of people, and I refer to many an internet anonymity theory that points to the fact that, blessed with a keyboard rather than a face-to-face confrontation, people will attack and mock without remorse. It’s a dangerous game to play, especially with a religious group who are, quite rightly, not too keen on a venerated idol becoming a mere play-thing for the online masses. But the key question that lies within the matter is thus; is it a removal from the consequences of internet humour that fuels these bizarre waves of offensive content, or social media itself?
The problem with being offended by an individual, a group, or content on the internet, is that quite simply the response most of the time is “if you don’t like it, don’t use the web.” Not only is this a bizarre, elitist and ignorant way to view the argument, it also propagates the idea that social networks, a haven for every youth new to a keyboard, is nothing but a haven for offensive, arrogant individuals. Although those last three words do tend to describe an astonishing amount of teenage mindsets, for many the discussions facilitated by FaceBook groups or Twitter hash-tags have become key in allowing those who feel isolated by the wealth of faceless information on the web to re-connect, hours after school, college or work have finished.
Unfortunately, it also results in discussions like this one. In the red corner, we have Luke – loves offensive humour, thinks most Muslims are terrorists, and epitomises the mindset that draws such harsh criticism of the West out of people who are, realistically, as peaceful as we are on a person-to-person basis. In the blue corner, we have Zafar, devout Muslim and one of the many upset by the fact that his method of connecting with his friends has been corrupted and ruined by the defamation of something he holds dear to him. Their arguments are simple – Luke is adamant (rather ironically, considering his biblical moniker) that it’s not offensive, and especially not to people who do nothing but shout “death to the infidels” at anything that moves. Zafar doesn’t care, he’d just like the insults to his religion to stop.
Is it really too much to ask? Social media doesn’t make inappropriate or un-PC humour easier to spread – the viral nature of everything from slander to internet Memes has been going for longer than we’ve had social media in its currently world-dominating format. However, it also means that there is now a global platform from which mud can, and will be, slung. Forums, chatrooms – they were all so niche, so specific, and unless you were tuned into their frequencies, whether socially or via the actual URL, it was rare you’d stumble across their less PC statements. But FaceBook isn’t divided into sections – it’s one big mob of people who love to tag their dog in holiday pictures during their lunchbreak, and they sit right alongside politicians, celebrities, racists, sexists, homophobes and all other forms of offensive opinion, because it’s the same site.
The key issue here isn’t what what offensive, but why. Images are always going to plague society when it comes to poor humour, and shows like Family Guy do well to propagate the idea that political correctness has gone too far. But those who throw no caution to the wind when posting to groups like these are opening themselves up. Someone on a forum can hide behind a fake name, even if the admin can nab their IP address mere moments after posting an image of the Prophet. However, on FaceBook, chances are that’s your real name, and the torches and pitchforks become a lot more sharp and hot, suddenly. Keep it clean, or keep to 4Chan.
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