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Angry people

There's a fairly atrocious advert doing the rounds on commercial radio at the moment. In it, a man with a warm Northern voice (the voices are always warm and Northern for ads of this ilk) extols the virtues of sitting round the kitchen table and airing your differences over a proprietary brand of convenience food (which, for obvious reasons I won't name - not least because I'm always too busy boggling at how bad the ad is to actually notice who it's for). Maybe you say dinner, or maybe you say tea, it says, but you can still shove our fat-sodden shite into your uncritical maw (I paraphrase). Leave or remain sort of differences, it says, cheerfully exploiting the imminent collapse of the country to sell chips (which seems fitting, to be fair). The message, as I understand it, is that it's good to talk stuff out, and preferably do so over some poor quality food. Whilst I can't subscribe to the latter part of their message, I do enthusiastically endorse the first part. We have some fairly regularly recurring disagreements in our household, and whilst propriety forbids me divulging some of the topics, though it should come as no surprise that my various failings as a human are one of them, one of the more regularly occurring ones is the worth of social media.

As Homer Simpson nearly said: Ah, social media. The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems. When the history of this century is finally reflected upon with appropriate distance, the impact of social media on the wider culture will undoubtedly be reckoned one of the more seismic events, provided we aren't all dead by then, of course. But, taking the optimistic view that humanity will manage to cling on in the teeth of its own stupidity for a few more decades yet, the arrival of the various platforms and the subsequent change in peoples lives from lived experience to online performance will be right up there.

It is, of course, a very easy target, and the case for the prosecution is pretty compelling. Our discussion was sparked by a documentary about the Little Mix singer, Jesy Nelson, and all the online abuse that she received after the group won whichever thing it was they won (I'll confess, I'm not particularly up to speed on that part, but it's not really the point). Here was humanity at its unedifying worst: death threats, vicious abuse, fat-shaming, rendered all the worse by their anonymity, I can quite see why she felt the world was against her. If this was all you ever read then it'd be hard to make a case for allowing humanity to continue, let alone Twitter.

Other people spoke of their experiences of trolling and abuse, and it was all pretty unpleasant, if unsurprising, stuff to hear. All in all, it gave the impression that the entire online world is a cesspool. As a fairly prolific twitter user myself, I have to say it can seem that way at times. In the fever-dream which currently passes for UK politics, it is easy to be horrified. Brexit twitter is a weird and scary place, the angry people pointing at street signs in your local newspaper rendered in ones and zeroes, a strange, half-lit hinterland where everything is somebody else's fault, where death is casually wished upon people who only semi disagree with you, and where everyone is either 100% right or worse than Hitler.

As you may have gathered by now, I tend fairly firmly towards the remain end of the equation, and in the interests of balance it is only reasonable to point out that a fair few on "my" side of the argument don't help, lazily typecasting all leavers as thick, racist or both. This is not to indulge in a Trumpian "fine people on both sides", I'd argue that the leave end is generally quicker to deride, more unpleasant in its denunciations of the opposition and quicker to spread misinformation. Remainers do tend to have a greater respect for facts, Leavers seem to me to be operating more on pure emotion.

As such, it should be apparent that social media isn't really the place for any form of reasoned debate, and so I've tried to remember why I got on it in the first place. To that end, over the last few weeks, I've been happily blocking most of the outrage moments, the peddlers of obnoxious opinion for clicks and profit. Once the likes of Hartley-Brewer, Hopkins et al are scrubbed from your timeline, it becomes a much calmer, and happier place, and its much easier to find the things you find interesting without getting side-tracked by whatever piece of shithousery Piers Morgan's just honked.

To that end, I found it interesting to read today that celebrities are now being advised to block and ignore their trolls, rather than resorting to the old trick of retweeting in the hope of attracting opprobrium, a counter-productive strategy, as opprobrium is what the keyboard pub drunks thrive on. It seems pretty obvious, but the temptation is, of course, always to engage. If you're being traduced, it's natural to want to fight back, but it seems that leaving well alone is a better strategy. Block, report and move on.

When we've been having these regular arguments about social media, one line I've stuck to is that I see it as a tool, which is what I've been trying to use it more as of late. As I try to balance the various spheres of my existence it's always good to see and hear the views of others in my various fields, be it swapping awkward customer stories with fellow chefs, or reading Andrew Taylor's history of the Edge Hill Poetry and Poetics Research Group. It is what you make it (for example, my Facebook use has dropped off considerably since my niece and nephew became old enough to get accounts, need to watch the swearing, it is now primarily just for keeping in touch with people). Some people have always been, and will always be, dicks, all social media's done is give them a megaphone. I generally feel nothing but profound pity for angry people on the internet, because if hounding someone for their appearance / gender / sexuality is the highlight of your day, it must have been a fairly shit day.


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