CIVIL SOCIETY

PART 1 – WHERE WE ARE TODAY

By Amelia Washbourne and Christopher Morgan

We feel that through query we now need to raise the level of Socratic discussion if we are to salvage some vestiges of UK democracy.

At one level civil society can be understood as society distinct from government and business but including the family and the rest of the private sphere, i.e., all parts of society apart from government. Some people use civil society in a more generic sense to include free speech, an independent judiciary, separation of powers and all those bits that make up democratic society with commonly held values and beliefs.

Our old pal Aristotle saw it in terms of the city state with shared norms and values in which free citizens lived on an equal footing under the rule of law. The Romans captured this in their ancient notion of a republic.

So, in the interests of simplicity but not necessarily academic accuracy we will assume that civil society encompasses the wide array of organisations, trade unions, community groups, non-governmental organisations, societal groups, charitable organisations, faith-based groups, professional organisations, the Third Sector, families, and community activists/agitators/disruptors. In summary the dense network of groups, the media, communities, networks, and ties that stand between the individual and the modern UK state. It is an instrument for securing the rights and interests of our people.

In short, the need to build and strengthen the civil society has come to be the common theme with many contemporary thinkers, reformers, and commentators. Civil society at its best compels government to continuously work as a representative, responsible, transparent, and accountable to our people.

We now turn to social media and its ability to provide a space where members of civil society can better control their own content, have more direct access to citizens and to use the power of movers and shakers to draw attention to the issues of the day.

Unfortunately, while social media does offer great potential for development work in restricted spaces it also has its dark side. There are risks of exposing individuals on social media thus potentially inviting repressive retaliation from groups that can push back in many ways.

The current focus on the sexual exploitation of women on social media highlights one of the current challenges. One of the answers to this may lie in better education of young men and women.

The internet has opened a new route for the exploitation of women.  It is not enough that there is inequality in the workplace and in pay, in the way women dress and how they are supposed to act but now females are being exploited by the internet and the media.  Photographs are shared in what is perceived as a secure relationship and when that breaks down, the woman is then displayed for all to see. As the recent Panorama programme highlighted these images are sold on as to form part of large collections.  This process leaves women feeling degraded and used.  The measures of hurt and violation must surely be treated as serious as rape, for surely those feelings of being violated will have the same lasting impact.  The psychological trauma often leads to suicidal thoughts, depressive illness, eating disorders and poor self esteem.  There can be no excuse good enough for posting this material regardless of the way it was obtained, and that the relationship has ended.  This is enough to have massive ramifications on someone’s life, relationships, education, employment, and culture.  There must be more respect for the women who suffer this and tougher sentences for those who think it is acceptable to post these images.  Society must not tolerate the abuse of women, young girls in this fashion and we must act to address it.

Solutions are increasingly seen as massive new regulations on social media companies. However, those who rage against social media companies disregard the incredible values these platforms provide, and they often aim blame at the wrong people. It could be that many of the solutions proposed are far more dangerous than the policies they seek to solve. 

What do you think? Have your say. Please feel free to reply so others can be encouraged to join the discussion.   

We can be contacted through office@robertowen.org.

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