If lockdown has taught me one thing it’s that elements of social media can be every bit as toxic as I’d previously feared. And, heaven knows, we’ve seen the very worst (alongside the very best) of human nature since we all went to ground in late March.
I’m talking mostly about Twitter. Facebook can, at times, be little better although nowhere near as venomous – and it is great for keeping in touch with far-flung friends.
I have though deleted Facebook from my phone, keeping it only on my laptop for purposes related to work. I’ve ditched my Twitter account and set-up an alias where I’m now following a small number of people in areas of life in which I have an interest such as travel, music, writing and certain sports.
I’m keeping Linkedin because it’s an invaluable and – for the most part – useful tool for business networking and the sharing of knowledge and ideas. And I remain a fan of Instagram for its simple celebration of hobbies, interests, themes, places and people important to its users – all without the ego (well, for the most part) and the endless political bores.
What finally tipped the balance for me when it came to Twitter, aside from the sheer nastiness, was the generally appalling level of debate. This is typified by a breed of individuals who wouldn’t be able to think in a grey middle ground if their lives depended on it and who appear to spend every waking hour parrot-fashioning those who merely confirm their beliefs and prejudices rather than ever being able to come up with a researched and considered opinion of their own.
The other factor was a whole raft of commentators and public figures who seem to think they know the answers to everything when, in fact, they actually know little more (and often less) than a failing GCSE student. They also appear to have negativity in container ship loads. You know the sort. If someone they disliked did everything perfectly, made no mistakes and bunged them a large envelope full of £50 notes – while at the same time finding a cure for cancer – they’d still be whining and carping from the sidelines.
And that takes me to the very worst offenders – those that finally made me think “enough”! Incidentally, I didn’t follow these individuals but others (who really should know better) appear to find them interesting.
Take Carole Cadwalladr, a woman who holds herself up as the beacon of investigative journalism when, in fact, she’s often been brought to book (by others) for failing to undertake the most basic of fact-checking of which a rookie reporter would be ashamed. And for letting her politics get in the way of balanced reporting – I want the facts Carole, I don’t give a stuff what you think personally.
And then there’s Alastair Campbell, a man now so consumed by utter hatred of people with whom he disagrees that he’s descended into farce and (rightful) ridicule and lost all ability to instigate or navigate a meaningful discussion.
Then we have the likes of the charmless Polly Toynbee, Yasmin Alibhai Brown (who I see is still here despite telling us she was leaving the country if Johnson won the December election), Ash Sakar of Novara Media (whose Twitter bio used to tell you she was a great f***; glad she has one skill because it’s certainly not in journalism), an author called Emma Kennedy (who whinges – about everything), Carole Malone (who just shouts over everyone like the drunken mother of the bride on a hen weekend in Benidorm) and politicians such as Sadiq Khan, the shambolic Mayor of London, and David Lammy, who just go around blaming everyone else for everything, moaning incessantly and displaying a total lack of political imagination.
And there’s also the deeply unpleasant, bitter and twisted Owen Jones – but let’s not even go there.
I’ll go back, if I may, to my earlier point about the blinkered intransigence of so many people these days. Something brought home to me last year when an acquaintance of many years stopped engaging with me on every level, something I can only assume was linked to my voicing opinions (I must have temporarily forgotten I’m not allowed them unless in total agreement with theirs) as to the utter uselessness of one leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition – a view it turns out held by the majority of the country.
This person was clearly unable or unwilling to accept I was expressing a view with which they didn’t agree despite the fact they’d spent years ramming their socialist ideals down the throats of anyone who would listen – and quite a few who’d long-stopped.
If supposedly intelligent people cannot even consider an opposing view without taking it personally – or resorting to ill-educated, unpleasant retorts (this person didn’t by the way but far too many do) – at every turn then that goes some considerable way to explaining the mess in which we find ourselves.
I shall miss Twitter folk like markets commentator David Buick; LBC presenters Iain Dale and Maajid Nawaz; the brilliant education reformer and headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh; Labour politicians Caroline Flint and Andy Burnham, and a few others. And that’s not because I always agree with them, I frequently don’t. It’s because, no matter how much they may disagree, they strive to see the opposite viewpoint and always treat others with courtesy and respect.
For the moment, I’m not missing Twitter one bit. And that, along with the curtailing of social media elsewhere – and an extremely strict consumption of news (that’s reading headlines twice a day at most) – have, for me, been definite benefits of lockdown.
I’m sorry my fellow (sensible) Twitter folk if I’m no longer engaging with you but you know where to find me.