An emotive study in the self-correcting nature of online conversations

16 February 2009

The world has been watching and sympathising with the victims of the bushfires that have ravaged Victoria over the past couple of weeks

Here in Australia, the coverage has been phenomenal. Traditional and online media as well as social networks have been abuzz with conversations expressing sympathy for the victims and analysing the events.

The entire country seemed to react with rage when it was revealed that some of the fires may have been started deliberately, and more recently, a suspected arsonist believed responsible for lighting a fire that destroyed the town of Churchill in South-Eastern Victoria was named by the media.

A number of Facebook groups naming the man were established, and they initially ran rife with posters condemning the actions of the accused and threatening vigilante action. Valid concerns have been raised about the ability for a jury to be found to hear the trial given the widespread discussion and intense media interest around the case. Furthermore, this analysis in the Sydney Morning Herald raises questions about the responsibility of Facebook and its publishers in the case.

More recently, messages have been posted to the groups suggesting that justice would be better served by shutting down the Facebook groups, in part because of their ability to influence. Given the emotion surrounding this case and the scrutiny it has generated, it’s both interesting and heartening to see the online community self-correcting in the face of such an emotive issue and for voices of reason to be able to cut through the online noise.

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