I’m finding something increasingly troubling. Being a frequent commentator on online forums, if I disagree, civility and respect for someone else’s opinion trumps any feelings that I have about the view expressed. My sense of self-worth is untarnished by disagreement. In recent times and in one particular publication, I am no longer to be trusted. At the behest of the AI which monitors online commentary, some of my remarks, however well-intended, have been rejected and at first I found myself, inexplicably, taking this seriously and being ‘offended’ that some faceless bot had had the temerity to deny me my right to speak. It is more than sad that such guardrails have to be put in place to protect those who have a voice, slim and timid, perhaps, but with no way of amplifying it. In hindsight, irksome as it is, I’m glad that these structures are in place. Some social media platforms, with gunslinging abandon, let people say what they damn well please and to hell with any fallout. I’m coming to the conclusion that the whole notion of a ‘safe space’ needs to be re-examined since these places are not psychologically safe at all. Were somebody to address me in the street in language that is entirely acceptable online, I’d call the police.
The flipside is, of course that if you tweeted something racist, sexist, homophobic or whatever after a drunken night out with your mates years ago, somebody might just find out when you apply for a new job and sink your application without trace.
Sometimes, people write things online that are toxic, malevolent and downright evil, almost like a last despairing cry from the Inferno. J K Rowling has discovered this and it has been very costly for her, even though her view is shared by an overwhelming percentage of the population. Why do they do it? They do it because they can. They seem either unable or unwilling to grasp the idea that the recipient of their venom might feel threatened at worst and at the very least, upset that they’ve been the recipient of such burningly acidic commentary. If somebody threatens to kill you, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that at some stage they might actually attempt to do so. Such people are both pitiable and impoverished. Underlying the bubbling cesspit of rage in which they have simply become lost is something more – something almost bloodless and grasping. There’s a hunger to take but never to give back or pay it forward; there’s monolithic and seemingly interminable ingratitude. They float in a bubble of inflated entitlement, existing in an environment fuelled by economy of truth – it’s all relative, after all. Pronouncements are often bizarrely couched in the language of self-care; “I have a right to say what I want” is either said or implied. Sometimes there’s an expectation always to be helped and rewarded no matter whether deserving or not. Some use language that is totally lacking in emotional intelligence with an astonishing level of self-absorption. Many harbour unrealistic expectations of puritanical groupthink from others and this, together with an over-inflated sense of either ability or talent comes both an inability and extreme unwillingness to apologise without justification. Passion and virtue-signalling can be so well performed in a public space yet is almost totally absent in the intimacy of face-to-face friendship. In this context I’m again reminded of Jo Rowling and the whole debate about ‘transwomen are women’ and how those who have expressed a different view are crucified by an avalanche of invective.
There are far too many social-media-savvy folk who almost choke on sanctimony. They lack real compassion; they speak fluidly about kindness but are unable to actually show any. I think such people have begun to lose their sense of self. Their behaviour and outward appearance sometimes mimics the particular worldview that has temporarily captured their attention and it changes over time, often with startling rapidity. A rapper, footballer or other influencer writes a sentence on Twitter and tens of thousands chirp in unison, until the next one comes along. It is as if the soul has splintered into several separate component parts and a schizophrenic is now firmly in charge, flitting like a butterfly from one persona to another. The person has become a people, inside. People whose social media lives are case studies in emotional aridity. People for whom friendship and its expectations of loyalty and support, no longer matter. People who are monomaniacally obsessed with whatever is the prevailing ideological orthodoxy and throw their friends under the bus in order to ‘belong’.
People who ask you to ‘educate’ yourself while not having actually read any books, unable to intelligently defend their own ideological positions, because by ‘educate,’ they actually mean ‘parrot what I say, flatten all nuance, wish away complexity.’
People who do not recognise that what they call a sophisticated take is really a simplistic mixture of abstraction and orthodoxy, dressed in the Emperor’s new clothes.
People wield words like ‘violence’ and ‘weaponise’ like tarnished pitchforks. People depend on obfuscation, having no compassion for anybody who might be genuinely curious or confused. Ask them a question and you are told that the answer is to repeat a mantra. Endlessly.
And so, we have a generation of young people on social media so terrified of having the ‘wrong’ opinions that they have robbed themselves of the opportunity to think and to learn and to grow.