Not for the first time, I’m wondering what happened to #bekind, the campaign spurred by the suicide of television presenter Caroline Flack, who was called horrific names for the crime of being almost 40-years-old in the public eye.
Believe it or not, in the darkest recesses of social media, you’ll even find threads questioning the legitimacy of #bekind. Apparently – it’s said – it was all a ruse dreamt up by people who were actually the very opposite of kind.
When we end up going down that particular line of double-think, I can truly see the benefit of deleting social media altogether. Although it can be a force for good, it can quickly turn into the 21st century equivalent of the medieval crowd baying for blood at a public execution.
In its brevity, it encourages polarisation. There is no room for nuance or shade of thought.
Everyone is entitled to their private view of the Royal family, Captain Sir Tom Moore, Marcus Rashford and indeed any other person who has endured disgusting online abuse. For what? Trying to reconcile their prominent position and right to privacy. Raising millions for the NHS. Campaigning to help children living in poverty.
However, what compels people to jump on Twitter or Facebook and spew hatred just because they happen to disagree with a particular action or standpoint?
I wouldn’t dignify these trolls by repeating a single word of what they say, but the comments which have darkened the joyful announcement of the Duchess of Sussex’s pregnancy touch the bottom of this dark and swirling cesspit of vitriol.
You really might think that people would have better things to do in these troubling times than sit down and put thought and effort into insulting the Duchess and her husband online. And no, I don’t buy the argument that they’re public figures so therefore fair game.
In any democracy, it is right that we can question the actions of others, Royal or otherwise. This kind of attack, however, goes way beyond informed comment or rational argument.
On the one hand, it assumes an intimacy with Meghan and Harry which clearly no member of the public possesses, and on the other, emphasises the distance, driving the wedge ever deeper between ‘them’ and ‘us’. What good can possibly come of it?
Don’t these insidious individuals have other, more pressing things to worry about? Such as work? Looking after their families? Keeping food on the table and a roof over their head? Directing their energy towards helping other people?
I’m the first person to spout off my opinion, but only when asked for it. I must read hundreds of social media posts a day and much of what passes before my eyes I could easily take serious issue with. Like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, most mornings, I am definitely asked to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Sometimes my fingers itch to make a scathing comment, but I always stop, think and remember what we were taught in Sunday school; always treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.
That’s not a trite homily by any means. It’s from Matthew 7:12. I’ve taught it to my two teenagers since they were old enough to speak and act. I hope I’m right in thinking that they’ve stuck by it. Not so some of their friends.
I’ve seen some horrific examples of online bullying, with the teenage victim left traumatised and with mental scars that will take years to heal. My heart goes out to these young people. I was bullied at school, but in those days you could at least screw up your courage and look the perpetrator in the eyes. Where do you think I learned to argue?
Not so these so-called ‘keyboard warriors’ who take it upon themselves to stand judge and jury upon individuals they have never met, and never will. A clever professor I once interviewed told me that this outpouring has turned into such a hateful plague because people feel increasingly powerless.
I can speak from experience. I’ve been the target of several Twitter ‘pile-ons’ when one person takes umbrage with something I’ve written and then scores of others join in, making me feel like a complete failure as a professional and a human being for a couple of days.
It hurts. However, on such occasions, I take comfort in an interview I once read with the dignified actress Joanna Lumley. Asked how she dealt with nasty reviews, she said that she simply never read them, so they couldn’t upset her.
I sincerely hope that Harry and Meghan have the strength to similarly rise about the vitriol. It’s a pity that their persecutors probably never will.
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