Most people are nice. Or at least they seem to be. Anytime I’m out for a walk the vast majority of people say hello as they pass. People will move aside to make way for a buggy, cars will stop to let you cross the road, most people are nice. I don’t think anyone has ever randomly thrown abuse at me in public. Nobody has called me names or delivered personal insult. Thankfully that kind of behaviour would be incredibly unusual and socially unacceptable.
Social Media is a whole different world. I find it very hard to understand how some of the same people who say hello to each other in the real world engage in abusive behaviour online. While I have never been verbally abused by a stranger in Public, I most definitely have online. Many many times. I stood in two local elections (I find myself quite relieved that I will never do so again). A lot of the trolls see this as all the justification they need to hurl abuse.
Any involvement in political parties seems to make targets fair game these days. While I am no longer involved in any political party, I will always have empathy towards those that are. Many of them are genuinely trying to improve the world. I’d be willing to wager that the vast majority of the trolls targeting them have a negative balance sheet on that front. Of course Political activists are not the only targets. Racist messages to sports stars are the norm. Paul Pogba is the most recent example of this. These racist messages can’t all be from Russia.
There’s something about being online that brings out the worst in some people. The ability to be anonymous is just too much of a temptation. There seems to be no end to social media accounts with no picture and few friends who seem to put huge time and effort into upsetting people. These trolls must have very sad lives but it is difficult to feel sorry for them. They are cowards, nothing more. I know there are cases where this anonymity allows for whistle blowing but I think it is leading to far more negatives than positives. It is surely not beyond us to invent independent whistle blowing services guaranteeing anonymity without allowing any dope with a grudge to spread hate online with a mask on.
The thing that scares me the most about our online world is the potential effect it will have on my children. I consider myself fairly self-confident and secure. I’d be lying if I said the level of trolling I was getting at one point didn’t get to me. It was by far the worst thing about being involved in Politics. I didn’t fully realise it at the time but while it was happening I was online constantly. I was always watching in case some troll put something negative on a promoted post, of if some ‘random’ person promoted another candidate on a post I was paying for. I lost sleep. And I’m a grown up.
How do targeted children cope? Like most people, my memories of school are not all good. School was a time of insecurity, social pressure and often conflict. The one thing I knew for certain was that when the finishing bell went and I headed home, I was out of reach. I could unwind and forget any troubles I may have had in school. Social Media robs children of this. We can all remember being embarrassed by something we did at some stage. We remember thinking that our social lives were over. We remember it wasn’t nearly as big a deal as we thought at the time. Imagine if we had no escape from the taunts and slags at a time like that? How much worse would it have been?
I’m very willing to be that bad guy that deprives my children of having a phone long past their friends. I’ll gladly be the nosy Dad that monitors my children’s social media activity (with their knowledge) when they eventually do get a phone. I hope others do the same. Society bears some responsibility here though. We don’t allow children to drink or gamble. Maybe we shouldn’t allow them into the wild west that is social media. At least until we have made people accountable for their accounts.
Photo credit here.
More articles here.