Thursday, 17 August 2017

AntiSocial Media? It's Your Account and Your Choice

You get to choose how you conduct yourself on Social Media but there are always consequences to your action and everyone gets to see them...

I discovered Twitter a few months after the sudden loss of my wife. I was grieving and, to be honest with you, really struggling in the evenings. I hadn't just lost my wife I had lost my best friend and now evenings had become my prison and it was solitary confinement. Twitter allowed me to connect with people on my own terms, safely, and it allowed me to reach out to people that I shared a lot in common with. I met Doctor Who fans, theatre fans and people who were to become close personal friends. People like AD Lane and his film project Invasion Of The Not Quite Dead saved me from personal oblivion and I will never forget that. Now, I run a PR company (WhiteScreen Promotions) and one of my main duties is to build engaging social media driven strategies that build audiences for my clients. I am a huge promoter of the value of Twitter and Facebook and it can be such a powerful force for good. Through Twitter I have connected with a wide network of talented creative people who inspire me on a daily basis and so there are also those whose support I enjoy and return as well.

However, Social Media has a vicious and abhorrent side and I am not just referring to the seemingly endless 'bots' and spammers who fill in boxes with unsolicited rubbish. There is a much bigger problem and it isn't easily resolved by a simple block and ignore manoeuvre. Because this problem is with the users of social media and it is growing at an alarming rate across all social media platforms. Want to know how bad it is? In December 2016 a dear friend of mine took her own life as a result of a nasty Twitter sustained attack which raged both on her public timeline and also in her private messages. Despite persistent reporting to Twitter by a number of us the attack was so personal and unrelenting she felt unable to endure and committed suicide. I was devastated and I still miss Rosie and her incredible friendship and strength. She had endured more than most of us could ever imagine and to be thrown back into her past was something she could not fight back from. Rosie's story is not unusual and cyber bullying is a monumental problem across all ages. I see examples of the sort of tweets and posts that triggered the death of my friend every day and I perceive all of the personal attacks have the same root cause. For a large majority of Social Media users, the concept of debating and discussing difference of opinion respectfully and without resorting to personal affront and attack is an alien one. Despite the fervent belief that Free Speech is an essential element to our society people who personally attack when using Social Media do not seem to perceive the hypocrisy of their actions. When you attack a person because you disagree with them, when you resort to personal abuse you make people think twice of exercising the very right you champion.

Not to sound overly judgemental, it is all too easy to find yourself in the middle of a Twitter tirade and in my early months using social media, I am ashamed to admit that I have often looked back on what I have said with bemused shame. How did a conversation go so badly wrong? Why did I say that? I was very much the sort of person who would take everything personally and I also couldn't separate difference of opinion with personal attack. I think part of the reason for this is that on Social Media, as with email and text, you cant hear the tone or inflection with how something is being said. Offence is so easily taken and the more personal a subject the more passionate our tweeting becomes. I don't have any easy answers for this issue and all i can do is share some of the things that work for me. I still get it so very wrong sometimes but I hope that I am not as prone to pointless and harmful arguments that damage and wound than I used to be. I am a passionate and opinionated person and I don't think that will ever change but there is a way to convey opinion whilst at the same time listening and respecting others right to share theirs.

I found it helpful to remember that every real tweet and post comes from a real person. Tweets and posts whizz past so fast they can feel incredibly impersonal and it is so easy to hook an opinion to a passing tweet without really thinking about the person who posted it. I really do believe that we demonstrate the absolute best of humanity when we are able to debate and discuss sensibly and carefully. When I lose my temper I lose my argument and any chance that my opinion will be taken seriously. No matter how offensive an opinion is to me, no matter how much I disagree with it I will always attempt to attack the view point and not the person. There are obviously exceptions to this and times when it becomes nearly impossible to separate a repugnant opinion from the individual. Donald Trump and anyone that doesn't condemn the Nazi ideology in the most strongest terms fall into this category! It is a challenge and when I am debating issues that are held close to my heart but often provoke strong opinions are when I find my resolve threatened.  Issues surrounding mental illness and suicide will always polarise opinion and people seem to be unable to think twice before sharing their, often ill informed views. I don't assist them by personally insulting them and I miss out on the opportunity of challenging and informing, perhaps on a subject where they could be a force for so much good. I have my own 'lines in the sand' and I disengage much earlier than I used to when conversations become too personal. In a world which seems to be so full of hate and violence, do we really want to add our voices to that torrent of negativity. We must speak out against the evils of discrimination and hate speech, we have to mind the lessons from history and stand against those that would threaten to push this world into further darkness. But by being pulled down to the level of hating and personal abuse we have lost before we even begin. I try and focus on counter argument and on putting across my opinion rather than personally insulting. You cant reason with stupid but you cannot shout it down either. 

The other issue is when people just dont listen to what is actually being said, rather they bring with them a personal and often entirely different view. It is this that they react to rather than what is actually being conveyed. I was once advised that I have one mouth and two ears and should use them in that ratio. To listen and question more before taking an adversary stance would save a lot of Social Media confrontations!

Social Media can be a force for good and for real and lasting connection but it is your choice. Each of us defines who we are by what we tweet and post. You get to choose whether what you post uplifts and informs or whether it destroys and diminishes. Your tweets can be beacons of light in the dark or can serve to make darker what is already black. Don't ever let yourself be censored and don't stop being you but respect that others have the same rights as you do. Social media is a here to stay and to ignore it completely isn't going to make the problems go away. Social Media can be such an incredible force for good and it can topple regimes and governments. It holds our leaders to account and reminds those that we have elected who they are accountable to! Let us stand against oppression but not lose our own minds by spewing out hate filled social media content.

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