For a country built on the basis of free speech, social media has emboldened odd times, creating an uninhibited pathway to hatred and baseless claims. It is been disheartening to see Lake County social life become centralized around Facebook, and the amount of mob-like accusations that follow.

It is startling how much social media has culturally changed society. Hanging out with friends has become sitting around a table staring at our phones together. People feel indulged to share mundane details about everyday life, and often Lake County-centric groups are filled with circumstantial or outright false accusations of wrongdoing against others.

I can’t help but feel partially responsible. Years ago I left my job at Universal Music Group to join a small start-up company with a new website concept. It was called Intermix, and the site was dubbed Myspace. It was intended for local bands and promoters to showcase upcoming concerts and parties, yet somehow we skyrocketed to the most visited website in the world. While not the first social media site, it was the dawn of social media as a mainstream global entity.

Our intentions were good, but we didn’t plan for the downside. Law enforcement meetings to establish protocol for online predators, child pornography, illegal sales, and other illicit acts enabled through Myspace.

Myspace’s relevance has come and gone, but in its wake came Facebook, the global juggernaut that took everything we did right, and fixed what we did wrong. Facebook has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. There is a lot of good from that, it enables people from around the globe to stay in contact and share information, but it also has altered the concept of free speech to encourage the unbridled freedom to hate and falsely accuse.

Over the past few weeks while tracking local social media for potential news stories, I have seen people accuse other Lake County residents of committing crimes, without any evidence to back it up. Rumors run rampant, hatred openly spewed, with many chiming in to further spread the hate. Individuals exonerated by law enforcement get next to no recognition of their innocence, but we seem quick to lay blame and judge. It is unfortunate, and worse, people seem to think there are no repercussions for doing so.

Slander, libel and inciting violence upon innocent people is illegal, whether done in public or behind a keyboard. There are major repercussions that can occur. A Facebook account is not justification to spread hate and lies, nor does it qualify anyone as judge, jury, and (let’s hope it never happens) executioner.

I encourage social media use for many positive reasons, from business promotion to education; but please think before you type. I have heard from employers who disqualified potential employees, coaches who rescinded college scholarships due to social media posts, and other self-inflicted life-altering deeds done for likes on social sites.

Please, indulge in positive social media interactions, but when it comes to legal matters, investigations and breaking news – leave it to the professionals.

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