Blaise Tapp: Adapting to a new era of online protest

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If I could sum up the 21st century so far I would describe it as the era during which the world lost respect for almost everything.

One of the key side effects of the communication revolution, which has afforded billions of us a voice, is that nothing is sacred and nowadays reputations are routinely smashed to pieces in the full glare of the public spotlight.

Social media has allowed the mob to do their thing without having to get off the settee and society has been forced to adapt to this. If you are irked by a particular issue, it is a safe bet to say that there will be at least one petition out there for you to sign, giving you an immediate sense of satisfaction.

Encourage enough like-minded folk to add their names and it could even be ‘debated’ in Parliament, although it is likely to be sandwiched between motions about safe havens for otters and an MP congratulating a constituent on being named fish fryer of the year.

Now we are all activists and can easily get behind many worthwhile causes long before we join Holly and Phil for our daily dose of This Morning banalities. Easy peasy.

While encouraging public engagement in anything is to be welcomed, we must be careful that society does become more reactionary than it already is.

Take the latest guidance from the Local Government Association as a prime example of this. Last week we learned that the LGA was cautioning councils against naming streets after individuals due to the risk that the recipient of this great honour could, further down the line, be unmasked as a child abuser.

It is a sad fact that the 1970s and 1980s are, quite rightly, catching up with a host of nefarious characters, some of whom had cemented their place in the upper echelons of a particular community before justice caught up with them.

It is also quite right that nobody would want to live in Jimmy Savile Way or Rolf Harris Court but to suggest that all local worthies have dark secrets is quite a leap. The LGA says this is the sensible approach to take, given that the cost involved in naming a road is not insignificant and they know that councils would be left with little choice but to rename it once an army of online militants found its voice.

Today we want instant justice: we demand that fatcats we disapprove of have their knighthoods taken away, regardless of whether or not they have been convicted of any crime. This is very rarely done via public demonstrations but through online protest.

Such things are judged by the size of the virtual protest, a risky judgement when you consider that adding your voice to a cause, whether you really care about it or not, takes seconds to do.

It is a shame that well deserving public servants should be denied the possibility of a future honour and the respect that goes with that due to the fear of public backlash.

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