The last few months have been a tough old time for many, many people. Desperately missing those they love; the absence of everyday human connection dealing a bitter blow to households the length and breadth of the UK.
What a time we’ve had. What a strange and challenging period to live through.
Social media – which has so much power to bring people together – could have been, should have been, a great uniter during lockdown. A route through which people could stand together (virtually at least), shoulder to shoulder, and spread some stuff the world needs more of right now…. Kindness. Compassion.
But, in this dystopian world, in which social media is actually anti-social media, and #bekind is something we need a hashtag to remind us to do, far from unite us, it seems platforms like Twitter and Facebook have – at times – become perilous places to hang out.
Perhaps it’s the strain of the last few months; or maybe it was there before but I was so busy doing stuff other than social distancing or washing my hands (well… I did do that before March) to notice it, but it seems that when the world turned upside down this year, its rather ugly underbelly revealed itself.
In the real world, close to home, lockdown seems to have brought out such kindness in people. Like, for instance, my lovely neighbour who handmade 20-odd fresh pizzas and dropped them off to every door in the cul-de-sac. Or the ‘can I get you anything at the supermarket’ texts from family and friends. In social media land, meanwhile, precious little of this makes it through. Every now and again, I see a post that restores my faith in humankind… But it’s fewer and further between in the age of lockdown.
Maybe I follow the wrong people? Maybe I just need a social media detox? Maybe it will all matter less when I am back to my normal life!
For now, though, stepping into social media requires a crash helmet. It’s the virtual equivalent of road rage… you know… when the meekest, mildest of people get behind the wheel of a car – a little bubble – and sound their horn and shout abuse at fellow road users. Then spend the rest of the day politely going about their business, bottling up all of their anger and saying nothing out of turn until the return journey when they’re riled back up and ready to let off some steam. Social media is their new highway. A place to let it all out without consequence.
I was both heartened and horrified in equal measure to read how Reach newspapers in the North East are taking a stand against the hateful comments posted on social media. Glad – on the one hand – that they are speaking out. Reassured that my observations of a more toxic social media space were not in fact a reflection of a dwindling mood brought on by months in lockdown, and that, actually, other social media users are seeing this worrying trend of mounting anger and bullying online; anger that is – as was pointed out by Helen Dalby, editor in chief for Reach in the North East – actually spilling over into threats of violence towards her team of journalists. I’m absolutely horrified that it’s come to this. That journalists are so viciously set upon that they must take this stand. But it’s time everyone started to call out the bullying and hate they see on social media. Just because it’s said on Twitter doesn’t make it any less real or threatening.
The social media bubbles that are occupied by trolls must be burst. People must be made to own their posts; not to hide behind an avatar and disconnect from their words. And perhaps it’s time for more passive social media users to take a stand too – even if only to use their platforms to share some positivity, and drown out negative noise.
There is little doubt that the social media amphitheatre has put a power in the hands of people that some are still adjusting to, and some frankly cannot be trusted with. An ability to reach people they otherwise couldn’t; to have their messages amplified. And we know how powerful that can be, for the brands and people we work with, who use their platform positively, to reach people who matter to them and connect in new ways. But for those in their bubble, posting in rage as they tear down the social media highway, the more responsible ‘drivers’ need to flag them down. Hopefully, the steps taken by Reach – and the outlets that will surely follow their fantastic example – mark the beginning of the end of the road for hate on social media. Let’s hope so.