Opinion: Witch hunt

POSTED: 02/11/13 2:47 PM

How dangerous are social media and the free flow of information over the internet? Jean-Pierre Geelen, a TV-critic for the Volkskrant notes what we are experiencing here in St. Maarten as well: “Through social media surfaces what was already brewing in the underbelly.”

Henri Beunders, a professor in the history of society, media and culture at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam warned not too long ago that it is only a matter of time before the first victim of this phenomenon will be a fact. Due to the social media the prosecution of perpetrators and suspects starts already in the media and that will lead in the future to witch hunts and hanging parties, Beunders said.

Geelen notes that it remains unclear what the basis is for Beunders’ predictions, but he freely admits that you don’t have to be a scientist to see a threat in the anger among the population that flows through the veins of twitter, Facebook and blogs.

The eight of Eindhoven – a group of youngsters responsible for a senseless beating – or Sjoerd van Keulen, the fallen top dog of the SNS bank, the social media know where to find them. Even veteran sports journalist Mart Smeets received death threats because he kept Lance Armstrong’s yellow anti-cancer bracelet a little bit too long around his wrist.

We may laugh about the weapons those crazy Americans have in their possession, Geelen noted, but in the Netherlands we pull our smart phone and fire salvos at everyone we don’t like. We’ve got Twitter and we know where your house is.

That twitter is popular appeared last week when producer Jelle Brandt Corstius attacked SNS-boss Sjoerd van Keulen. He called on his 47,877 followers on twitter and on his blog to pelt the villain with emails and to demand that he surrenders his €1 million-bonus.

The man did not have to be hanged or threatened (that only has an adverse effect, Brandt Corstius Twittered), but it was not necessary to remain polite either. “After all, this (expletive) is anything but polite.”

Brandt Corstius said later in a TV-program that people on the Central Station in Amsterdam greeted him with high fives.

Not to be outdone, Telegraaf Editor-in-Chief Jules Paradijs published a picture of Van Keulen’s luxurious villa in Laren. The picture was taken with a hexacopter – a small remote controlled plane equipped with cameras. The newspaper used half its front page to publish the picture. It shows someone stepping out of a side door. Not hindered by the lack of information, the Telegraaf happily wrote this caption: “Yesterday Van Keulen, or possibly a member of the family, took some fresh air while out photographer took his shot.”

It is the Telegraaf’s creative writing style people in the Netherlands have gotten used to. It means nothing, yet it suggests everything.

But apparently, this has become the prevalent new style of journalism in the Netherlands. The established media are unable to ignore the bloodbath, and they are now writing about what those darn social media and those uncontrolled blogs (of which we have our share in St. Maarten) are doing.

The attention from respected newspapers and from a barrage of TV-programs desperate to boost their ratings have given these social media and these blogs an aura of importance that they do not deserve. The best way to deal with them? Declare them non-existent and never write another word about them.

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