Moral panic and technology have travelled through history hand in hand.

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Show me a printing press and I’ll tell you about books being burned or banned, from Luther’s Bible to Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the Satanic Verses.

Turn to the radio and television and I’ll tell you about censored songs, Mary Whitehouse’s clean-up TV campaign or Elvis’s gyrating hips on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. Or rather, the gyrating hips viewers were not allowed to see.

The rise of the personal computer gave us moral panic about video games.

The internet has given us new terrors: cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying to name but two.

You may have read in these pages last week that the “unfettered rise” of social media poses a threat to trial by jury.

A good example was given – the naming of a rape victim on Twitter – to support the case.

But I’m not going to damn technology for how some people have misused it.

I’m not going to call for legislation when existing laws are being applied to social media and enforced with increasing rigour.

Instead, I’ll share what I’ve seen.

Social media is where I can ask a question and people will try to answer, whether they are in Chicago, Canberra or Cromer.

It’s a place where my friends and family share stories and pictures.

It’s where links to interesting things around the web are freely traded – links to blogs, music, magazine or newspaper articles I might not otherwise have seen or heard.

One click and I’ve discovered what has sparked a friend or follower’s interest; made them laugh, made them angry or told them something they didn’t know before.

It’s where the power of a personal recommendation or review is changing how I act as a consumer, for the better.

It’s where I’ve been challenged to defend my point of view and held to account about what I’ve written or said, including how my views on social media have changed over the years.

Social networks don’t look like lawless and fearful frontier towns to me.

They are places for conversation and collaboration.

So I asked users of Twitter, Linkedin, Google+ and Facebook for help with this article.

What should I write?

One suggested I mention the role social media had played in the Arab Spring.

Possibly. But I suspect what was being preached at Friday prayers was more powerful in getting people on the streets.

Someone else mentioned how good citizens used Twitter to co-ordinate volunteers to clear up after the London riots. But it had also been used by would-be rioters and looters.

Another reminded me how a social media campaign robbed Simon Cowell of the certainty that the X Factor could manufacture a Christmas number one record.

An entrepreneur mentioned that he was using social media to tell stories about his business that the traditional media overlooked.

I’ll offer a few examples closer to home.

Every day, people who might never pick up a copy of the EDP are finding our journalism – and seeing the adverts we’ve sold that help pay for that journalism – by following social media links to our website.

Asking via Twitter or Facebook for eyewitnesses or case-studies to enliven our coverage is now routine for many of our journalists.

Look to the EDP’s 1,500-member group on Linkedin and you’ll see business people asking each other for advice.

Questions in recent days have ranged from securing venture capital funding to recommendations of companies who could shoot some video for a client.

These small, generous acts of sharing are made easy by technology. They are happening every day.

But like any community – real or virtual – how could you influence the behaviour of others for the better? How could you encourage others to make the best, not the worst, of technology? It’s simple. Get involved.

Paul Hill is Archant Anglia business editor. Tell him what you think on Twitter @paulhill_biz

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