Once again social media is at the heart of unpleasantness this week with the only winners being the tabloid press and the websites that host the battlegrounds of this ‘interactive dialogue’.
Where did this week’s problems arise and why?
If you haven’t read about this already then I suggest you are probably best out of it and I certainly don’t wish to publicise the drivelling words of some who wish to do no more than create bad feelings amongst others.
I hear some people say “We live in a free society so I can say what I like…”
This may be true but the problem with social media and the web is that comments that are made – whether true or not – then become part of the search engines’ library of searched text. Writing in a forum, or on Twitter, Facebook or even commenting on a newspaper website can result in your viewpoints – whether valid or not – being found by hundreds, thousands and even millions of others.
What has happened recently (and it has been happening to actors for quite some time) is that some individuals make disparaging comments about actors in a casual way, as if talking to a friend, but do so using social media and that is where the casual comments become very public, and in some cases quite hurtful. Yes we have the right to free speech, and we have the right to our own opinions but is it ‘fair’ to be able to broadcast those views to potentially millions of other people.
The sad thing is that the press seem to have nothing better to write about at the moment and are quick to jump on this type of story only making it worse for the individuals involved. And so it goes on.
This isn’t just about people voicing their negative opinions about an actor’s ability on stage. I have also read comments in forums and on Twitter about awards that are just one website’s award and probably not even known by most people. Not necessarily a bad thing but what it means is that a few people can create a lot of content on the world-wide-web that may well influence many people in either a negative or a positive way when they read those words.
There are also comments that are blatantly false, but, the text is still there on the web and can be found by others to read as if it were the gospel truth. Just like when you’re reading a book, a tabloid newspaper or whatever, you need to be aware of things NOT being ‘gospel’ truth. We all need to distinguish between an objective point of view, a good website, a reliable source and rubbish. People should always try and distance themselves from what they read first before forming an opinion.
So, what is the answer?
Of course there is no easy answer as we don’t live in a perfect world, but….
I would encourage any theatre based website to consider making their forum to be either not-indexed by the search engines or to make the forums private and members only. Or to have those forums effectively managed and moderated. This is the performing arts where articulate people should be able to interact in a civilised way.
Yes everyone is entitled to free speech but if someone wishes to slag off an actor and doesn’t want any come-back on those words then do it within a closed forum. I don’t wish to read personal rants attacking someone when I search for an actor’s name on the web. However, you may argue what if someone is objectively ‘not good’ at acting? Fans writing wonderful things about someone who isn’t wonderful is probably not much worse than writing something negative about someone who isn’t good.
The thing is that having a viewpoint of an actor’s ability is a very subjective matter. Comments made on a forum about an actor range from them being awful to being the best in the world. We can all have different opinions and that is fine, I just don’t think we need the dirt thrown around publicly like it is.
The same goes for the comments made on the newspaper websites. If people wish to comment on these trashy articles then for goodness’ sake don’t make it personal. It just brings the performing arts down to the level of ‘football hooligans’. Now I love football so don’t think I am being condescending about football supporters!
As much as this is about the websites that are the vehicles for the content it is also about the people that make the comments, and read them. This of course includes the actors. Some actors don’t like reading reviews and I can understand why. It is a tough job and you lay your soul open to others. Not an easy job but one that you have chosen.
The best thing to do with criticism, either unfair or not, is to ignore it, as there will likely be ten times that amount in positive comments about you. Actors responding to negative criticism in the same way are only likely to make matters worse and prolong the issue. As we have seen in the past, the only thing to do is to move on from it.
The bottom line is, that in this ever growing world of social media, we all need to remember that when we make a comment it isn’t just our friends that may be reading it… you can be sure that if you write something personal about someone then that person WILL read it… think before you write..
Thursday 14th June, 2012