evarist_bartolo
Evarist Bartolo

An assignment for social media

Ways for the public to openly air their views are crucial in today’s democracy [but] sometimes the wrong information… is put forward and common sense is lost in the discourse

evarist_bartolo
Evarist Bartolo
9 August 2017, 7:30am
 On local social media, especially Facebook though, user-led groups create a cacophony that has become increasingly difficult to ignore
On local social media, especially Facebook though, user-led groups create a cacophony that has become increasingly difficult to ignore
The power of social media was on full view over the past few days as photos of illegally set up deckchairs on local beaches made it onto Facebook the second they hit the sand. In all fairness, the authorities were already on the ball but the fact that people were posting pictures and commenting on such abuse further emphasised the point.

Operators who were dodging regulations were facing the wrath of something much worse than the heavy hand of the authorities: the public. Newspapers used to hold that kind of influence, but the news websites had to follow rather than lead on this, as photos were being uploaded in real time with pressure mounting.

I think we’re onto something here, but I do have concerns. Social media has opened the doors to public mobilisation, which in turn can become an effort and a tool in itself. When there are enough people leading the outcry, it becomes an issue. On local social media, especially Facebook though, user-led groups create a cacophony that has become increasingly difficult to ignore.

There are issues with this. Ways for the public to openly air their views are crucial in today’s democracy, however there is an unregulated aspect to all this. Sometimes the wrong information, or simply misguided notions, is put forward and common sense is lost in the discourse. We have seen this in education-related matters in recent years, where something which was simply incorrect reverberated across Facebook with little ability by us to wrestle it.

These are absolutely amazing ways to get the public involved in building the agenda. I do think there is an issue which has not received enough attention – access for people with mobility-related issues. I find it increasingly frustrating that people who have some form of mobility issue end up in a virtual prison simply because we’re unable to do relatively basic things. Access to walkways is often barred because of one thing or another – whether it’s wrongly parked vehicles or construction-related machinery.

This is wholly unacceptable. An individual in a wheelchair, in 2017, should not have to rely on the benevolence of total strangers to help them out of a tight spot simply because of the carelessness of others.

Of course, the law is already there – new buildings and improvements to existing ones must comply with strict accessibility rules. But on a practical level the story is very different.

I think social media could provide empowerment here. Because each situation is so different, we need to bring to light these issues so that action is taken on an individual level. People with disabilities are often under-represented in different fora but their voice, and the challenges they face, must be heard.

The problems being faced vary in shape and form, but there must be more understanding from the general public on this issue, and sometimes the smallest of things could make so much difference. I know many private employers who spent a great deal of effort to make sure their employees have the best services. They ought to be celebrated for their care and respect. However, we have many others, and this includes public sector and private sector individuals, whose care on these issues is simply not good enough. We must work harder because, in this day and age, we shouldn’t be talking about the same things that we talked about 30 years ago.

It ultimately boils down to respect for the dignity of the individual – let’s make sure each and every one of us can live freely and independently.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment